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Two small towns in Germany seek to realise Trump's LNG dream

Berlin

DOWNSTREAM from Hamburg, two small ports on the Elbe River are competing to build Germany's first liquefied natural gas import terminal and help shake up Europe's biggest gas market.

Hugging opposite banks of the river before it arcs into the North Sea, Stade and Brunsbuettel are battling for federal approval and hundreds of millions of euros in investment. The government may announce a winner next year, ending dithering about the need for such a facility and pressure by President Donald Trump to import US fuel to cut reliance on Russian gas.

Both sites tout their advantages but the main winner will be Germany, said Oliver Grundmann, Stade's constituency lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, on the phone on Monday. The nation is also considering other sites, such as Wilhelmshaven in the north-east, after decades of reliance on pipelines to Russia, Norway and the Netherlands.

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"The strategic relevance of diversifying our gas supplies via LNG is, I hope, by now a given," Mr Grundmann said. "The big question is who can build it fast and run it cost-effectively."

Pressure by Mr Trump on Germany this summer to dump its support for Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline project in favour of US shale gas in ships is a boon to ports jockeying to become a LNG hub. Federal aid is seen as critical to the project's structured finance, enabling the winner to speed up construction.

Supplies of gas to Germany from the rest of Europe are drying up, boosting Russia's position as the primary source for heating, industry and power plants. Russia accounted for about 45 per cent of Germany's imports in 2017, an increase of almost four percentage points from the previous year, according to data from McKinsey & Co.

Germany needs LNG capacity fast, said Mr Grundmann, citing the need for shipping to switch from dirtier fuels after 2020, when International Maritime Organization limits on sulphur emissions kick in. Germany seeks a significant slice in building LNG-powered ships too, he said, citing initial success in attracting contracts for cruise and special-purpose vessels.

Co-financed by Macquarie Group Ltd and China Harbour Engineering Co and costing as much as 500 million euros (S$790.4 million), closely- held consortium LNG Stade GmbH plans a terminal that will eventually be able to handle as much as 15 per cent of Germany's gas imports.

On the other side of the Elbe and further downstream, Brunsbuettel's bid is being led by a joint venture of gas infrastructure company NV Nederlandse Gasunie, Vopak LNG Holding BV and Oiltanking GmbH, bundled together as "German LNG Terminal". It's sited at the North Sea end of Germany's "Ostsee Kanal" channel, giving it shipping access to the Baltic.

The group signed an agreement last month with RWE AG that guarantees the utility access to a substantial chunk of the prospective terminal's annual capacity of five billion cubic metres, compared with Stade's planned eight billion cubic metres.

LNG Stade is looking to US LNG exporters to strike long-term supply contracts that offer attractive price models for the German market, project head Martin Schubert said in a note to Bloomberg.

Germany is also looking at other suppliers, such as Qatar, and Uniper SE is mulling a terminal at Wilhelmshaven, about 88km west of Stade, while Russia's Novatek PJSC and Belgium's Fluxys SA plan a mid-scale facility at the Baltic Sea port of Rostock. BLOOMBERG