Over the past two decades, the global market for liquefied natural gas has taken off as countries look to the fuel to support economic growth, compensate declining domestic production, improve energy security and create a cleaner energy mix by reducing their use of other fossil fuels like oil and diesel.

Today, LNG accounts for about 10% of the global gas supply, up from 4% in 1990, according to the US-based International Gas Union. Global demand for LNG - which is natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid at minus 160 degrees Celsius for transport - has increased by an average of 7% per year since 2000, far faster than domestic gas production and gas supplied by pipelines.

Last year, despite the low price of oil, or perhaps because of it, the volume of LNG traded globally rose to 241 million tons, the second highest annual rate as new output came online from Africa (the highest volume was recorded in 2011).

Latin America hasn't been exempt from LNG's growing role, with countries carrying out multi-billion dollar projects in recent years to develop liquefaction and regasification plants, used for exporting and importing LNG, respectively.

However the region is still a relative newcomer to the market, which has long been dominated by Asia. In 2014, Latin America consumed 22.3 million tons of LNG, accounting for about 9% of the global trade. Mexico leads the Western Hemisphere's consumption, bringing in 6.9 MT's last year. Brazil, Argentina and Chile are also prominent Latin American consumers, and figure within the top 15 LNG importers worldwide. 

While the region has a number of regasification facilities to import LNG, there is only one liquefaction plant to export the fuel (in Peru), excluding the Caribbean trains located at Trinidad and Tobago. For many, this highlights a contradiction in a region that is rich in natural gas but that has struggled to develop its own reserves.

Looking forward, a number of local political and economic factors promise to shape the development of LNG in Latin America. External factors will also play a major role, especially as the US looks to export LNG following the shale gas boom, offering nearby Latin American nations both opportunities and risks.

Figure: Growing Gas Use


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