China's imports of liquefied natural gas surged sharply in November as the nation experienced fuel shortages amid peak winter demand and the government's drive to cut coal use.
LNG imports rose 53 percent year-on-year to 4.06 million metric tons, according to data posted on Saturday on the website of the General Administration of Customs. Shipments in the first 11 months of the year were up 48.4 percent to 33.13 million tons.
The world's largest energy user is facing a winter natural gas supply crunch after demand surged this year amid the country's fight against smog by converting millions of households to gas or electric heating.
Last week, the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, ordered gas suppliers including China National Petroleum Corp and China National Offshore Oil Corp to speed up LNG imports to meet winter demand.
Natural gas consumption increased 18.9 percent year-on-year to 209.7 billion cubic meters during the January-November period, according to the NDRC.
Domestic natural gas production rose 10.5 percent to 133.8 billion cu m, while imports increased 28.9 percent to 81.7 billion cu m during the same period.
The surge in demand has lifted the price and the shipping cost of the fuel to an all-time high.
In just a month, the price of LNG in China jumped from 4,000 yuan ($605) per ton to more than 10,000 yuan per ton. On Dec 18, the highest price of LNG in Shaanxi-based Yulin Coal Trading Center rose to a record 12,000 yuan per ton.
The shipping cost of LNG carriers with capacity of 160,000 cu m rose to $80,000 this month, a 167 percent increase from that in April, according to leading shipping service providers Clarksons Shipping and Fearnley Shipping.
Han Xiaoping, chief information officer of China Energy Net Consulting, said the current natural gas shortage is due to insufficient domestic gas resources and the lack of distributed gas storage infrastructure, especially underground gas storage tanks.
"Compared with gas for industrial purposes, civilian use accounts for a small proportion. The government should give priority to household gas supply by shutting down some factories," said Lin Boqiang, a senior energy researcher at Xiamen University.
In early December, the Ministry of Environmental Protection told northern regions to allow coal burning in places that have not converted to gas or electric heating in order to "ensure a warm winter" for the public.