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[Slashdot] - Natural-gas Prices Are Spiking Around the World


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Across the world, a natural-gas shortage is starting to bite. Prices of power in Germany and France have soared by around 40% in the past two weeks. In many countries, including Britain and Spain, governments are rushing through emergency measures to protect consumers. Economist: Factories are being temporarily switched off, from aluminium smelters in Mexico to fertiliser plants in Britain. Markets are frantic. One trader says it is like the global financial crisis for commodities. Even in America, the world's biggest natural-gas producer, lobby groups are calling on the government to limit exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the price of which has climbed to $25 per million British thermal units (mBTU), up by two-thirds in the past month. In one sense the crisis has fiendishly complex causes, with a mosaic of factors from geopolitics to precautionary hoarding in Asia sending prices higher. Viewed from a different perspective, however, its causes are simple: an energy market with only thin safety buffers has become acutely sensitive to disruptions. And subdued investment in fossil fuels may mean higher volatility is here to stay. The shortfall has taken almost everyone by surprise. In 2019 there was plenty of gas on the international market, thanks to new LNG plants coming online in America (see chart). When the covid pandemic struck and lockdown constrained demand, much of the excess gas went into storage in Europe. That came in handy last winter, which was particularly cold in northern Asia and Europe. The freeze pushed up demand for heating. In Asia gas prices quadrupled in three months. Buyers, such as national gas companies, looked to the LNG market to fill out supply. Many Europe-destined cargoes were diverted to Asia. Europe, by contrast, drew down on its reserves. Prices there only inched up. This year odd weather has featured again. A hot summer has added to booming gas demand in Asia. The region accounts for almost three-quarters of global LNG imports, according to AllianceBernstein, a financial firm.

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