Oil and Gas

Here's how the Qatar rift could change the LNG markets

Saudi Arabia and others show no signs of backing off Qatar

Qatar's diplomatic crisis with its Middle Eastern neighbors could spur natural gas buyers to seek greater diversification in sourcing amid potential disruptions from United Arab Emirates ports refusing ships from the country.

"Buyers will increasingly look to complement their contract-dominated import portfolio with more spot purchases, although these will be smaller in volume," said Peter Lee, BMI Research's oil and gas analyst.

Qatar is the world's largest producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is traditionally sold on long-term contracts spanning decades. Large buyers include Japan, South Korea and China, who in March banded together to secure more flexible supply contracts.

LNG buyers have already been increasing spot natural gas purchases since prices in the commodities complex crashed following crude oil's 2014 slump.

Yet despite concerns about disruptions to crucial supplies, the market is currently calm. Reports indicate, meanwhile, that Qatari ships passing through the key Suez Canal shipping route are not facing restrictions as it is an international water passageway.

Despite earlier concerns, gas shipments are also passing through the Strait of Hormuz between Oman and Iran before moving onto Asia.

What buyers may actually be more concerned about now is the chance of logistical hitches.

The diplomatic rift has hit gas tankers stopping at the port of Fujairah, a fuel hub, with ships sent to find new destinations as far as Singapore for the task, trade media report, potentially causing delays and adding to shipping cost.

Nervousness in oil markets

This comes after seven countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain, severed diplomatic ties with the energy-rich monarchy on Monday, accusing it of backing Tehran and Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar has said it does not support terrorism, adding that the diplomatic rift was based on "baseless fabricated claims."

While the diplomatic spat will likely rattle buyers dependent on the energy source who may be moving to diversifying their product mix amid greater competition, gas from the Middle Eastern country will remain a "prominent feature" — even amid new supplies from destinations like Australia and the U.S. — added BMI's Lee.

Crude oil prices spiked on heightened geopolitical risk after the countries' announcements, but they have come back off and now appear to be largely trading on fundamentals with both U.S. and Brent crude prices hitting one-month lows on Wednesday due to a U.S. stock build. On Thursday morning in Asia, both grades were up 0.5 percent with U.S. crude around $46 a barrel while Brent was around $48 a barrel.

According to information provider, VesselsValue, there are 132 Qatari-owned vessels and 63 Qatari-flagged vessels.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct number of Qatari-owned and Qatari-flagged vessels.