(EnergyAsia, April 2 2013, Tuesday) — Australia has displaced Qatar to become the largest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan, the world’s biggest buyer, said Australian consultant EnergyQuest.

As a result of fast-rising domestic production, Australia’s 15.9 million tonnes of exports of LNG to Japan exceeded Qatar’s 15.7 million tonnes, and Malaysia’s 14.6 million tonnes.

This landmark achievement came on the back of Australia’s record LNG production and export volumes that were boosted by last year’s start-up of Woodside’s Pluto project, said EnergyQuest CEO Graeme Bethune.

Australia earned A$13.8 billion from its record export of 21.8 million tonnes of LNG last year, underlining it as a serious challenger to Qatar’s crown as the world’s largest LNG exporter. In 2011, it earned A$11.04 billion from exporting 19.64 million tonnes of the fuel.

“Japanese LNG imports were a record 87.3 million tonnes in 2012, 11% higher than the previous year, and 18.2% of that LNG came from Australia,” he said. Japan greatly increased its LNG consumption after shutting down almost all its 54 nuclear power plants in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami tragedy which struck its giant Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Dr Bethune said:

“Japan’s imports from Australia are set to keep increasing as the Gorgon, QCLNG, APLNG, Wheatstone, Prelude and Ichthys LNG projects come into production over the next five years.

“The INPEX Ichthys project – offshore of north-west Australia – alone is expected to supply around 10% of Japan’s LNG needs when it comes into production in 2017.”

Underlining Australia’s rising role in meeting Japan’s energy needs, US major Chevron said it has secured new agreements to supply LNG from its 64.14%-owned Wheatstone project in Western Australia state to Japan’s Chubu Electric for 20 years.

Dr Bethune said Australia’s LNG exports are likely to increase further in 2013 with a full year of production from Pluto, and then each year thereafter to at least 2017 as more projects come into production.

One the other hand, he said Australia’s oil production have continued to fall, with last year’s output at their lowest level last year.