Japan utilities call for bigger strategic buffer LNG

By Yuka Obayashi

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s power utilities on Friday called for an increase in the volume of the country’s strategic liquefied natural gas (LNG) buffer (SBL) to ensure a stable fuel supply amid lingering risk of supply disruptions due to heightened geopolitical risks.

The world’s second biggest LNG buyer after China, Japan has introduced the new SBL scheme for this winter to provide cover for any shortfalls in the event of an emergency, after last year’s energy crunch.

As an accredited provider of the SBL, Japan’s top power generator, JERA, will secure one cargo of LNG, about 70,000 metric tons, each month from December to February in preparation for the heating season.

Still, Japan should consider boosting the volume, Kazuhiro Ikebe, the chairman of Japan’s federation of electric utilities, told a meeting of the country’s LNG buyers, producers and traders with the industry ministry to discuss stable LNG supply.

“Considering Japan’s total LNG imports volume, the impact of a major supply disruption would be significant,” he said.

“So, public and private sectors should work together on further initiatives, including increasing the amount of the SBL,” he said, noting geopolitical risk amid continued war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East.

JERA President Hisahide Okuda also said further discussions on the SBL are needed.

“We have to deepen the discussion on the volume of SBL and how the cost burden should be borne,” he said.

As for this winter, Yoshifumi Murase, Commissioner of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, said there is no immediate power crunch risk given the current fuel inventory levels.

LNG inventories held by major Japanese electric utilities were at 2.33 million metric tons as of Nov. 26, while those by city gas suppliers were at 2.4 million tons as of end-September, both above the five-year average, METI data showed.

(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)