Liquefied Natural Gas Makes Qatar an Energy Giant
The temperature hovered around 100 degrees on the jetty here, where a set of pipes were connected to a giant red-hulled ship. But the moisture in the air froze on the pipes and flaked off, creating snowlike flurries on the early summer evening.
The incongruous sight is common on the Qatari ship, the Al Rekayyat, which carries a frigid fuel known as liquefied natural gas.
Natural gas, when chilled to minus 260 degrees, turns into a liquid with a fraction of its former volume. The process has reshaped the natural gas business, allowing the fuel to be pumped onto ships and dispatched around the world.
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After investing tens of billions of dollars, Qatar is at the forefront. Part of the emirate’s fleet, the Al Rekayyat, run by Royal Dutch Shell, goes to Fujian in China and Yokkaichi in Japan, as well as Dubai and Milford Haven in Wales.
When loading was finished recently, four tugboats pulled the ship from its berth with a deep roar. “I expect to be in the north channel around midnight,” said the captain, Veerasekhar Rao Muttineni, over the marine radio, as the ship eased into the waters of the Persian Gulf. Four days later, it docked in Hazira on the west coast of India.
Once a poor nation whose economy depended on fishing and pearl diving, Qatar is a relatively new giant in the global energy trade.
In the 1970s, Shell discovered the world’s largest trove of natural gas, called the North field, in Qatari waters. But there was no market for the fuel. Potential customers in Europe were too far to reach via pipeline, the usual method. Shell walked away.
Looking to the example of Malaysia and Indonesia, Qatar and Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who was then its emir, started promoting L.N.G. in the mid-1990s. Exxon Mobil was the important early investor; Shell, Total and ConocoPhillips soon followed.
Qatar and its energy partners took the business to a new level, developing far bigger and more efficient plants. Last year, Qatar produced about a third of all liquefied natural gas, although Australia and the United States have big export ambitions.