Thailand Turns Off Tap on Gas Imports as Economy Falters
BANGKOK/SINGAPORE, July 11 (Reuters) - Thailand is cutting natural gas imports after consumption growth in Asia's fourth-largest user of the fuel has sagged to two-decade lows, threatening to idle costly fuel import facilities and force suppliers to turn to rival buyers such as China.
Growth in gas use has stalled as the economy has taken a hit from political turmoil, putting in doubt long-term plans to boost imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and buy more piped gas from neighbouring Myanmar as domestic output wanes.
PTT PCL, Thailand's biggest energy conglomerate and sole gas supplier, has cut estimates for LNG imports and gas sales for this year, an executive of the firm said. That comes as slowing consumption for power and petrochemicals is reducing gas demand in Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.
State-controlled PTT has also cut its gas imports from Myanmar, which is now looking to China to take up some of the slack, a Myanmar government official said.
PTT owns the $880 million, 5 million-tonne-per-year Map Ta Phut LNG import facility, the second-largest in Southeast Asia, and parts of cross-country pipelines running for hundreds of kilometres from Myanmar. The lower imports will mean these facilities risk being underutilised, analysts say.
A plan to expand the capacity of the Map Ta Phut terminal to import the supercooled gas could also be in jeopardy, they say.
Thailand's military seized power in May after nearly seven months of political deadlock that hurt tourism, domestic demand and confidence. The economy contracted 2.1 percent in January-March from the previous three months, and the central bank last month cut its 2014 growth forecast to 1.5 percent.
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