Turning up the gas
焕然一新的天然气行业

Faisal Al Suwaidi has become a victim of his own success in creating a worldwide market for liquid natural gas
苏瓦伊迪在建造液化天然气全球市场的同时成为了自己成功事业的受害者。

RED flames shimmer behind a thick shroud of smoke at the Ras Laffan gas plant in Qatar. Methane from the bottom of the Persian Gulf is part-combusted and filtered in a spaghetti-like tangle of steel pipes. Further along, the gas is cooled in bulbous storage tanks to minus 160°C, turning it into liquid and reducing it to one-six-hundredth of its original volume, ready to be sent across the oceans aboard a new generation of supercarriers. Local officials boast that the plant will be the largest structure made by man in centuries when it is finished next year. Already it produces a quarter of the world’s liquefied natural gas (LNG).
在卡塔尔的拉斯拉凡天然气加工厂内,烟雾笼罩下的红色火焰微微发亮。来自波斯湾底部的甲烷气体在未完全燃烧后,经过那些像意大利面缠绕在一起的钢管来进行过滤。之后,气体进入球状储油罐内并冷却至零下160°C。在这里,气体压缩成体积约为同量气态天然气体积的1/600的液态天然气,并准备通过新一代的航空母舰越洋送往世界各地。当地官员夸口到,明年工厂建成后将会是几个世纪内最大的人造建筑。它目前已生产全球近四分之一的液化天然气(LNG)。

Ras Laffan is a singular industrial success, but that was no foregone conclusion. It would not have been built without one man taking a gamble. Faisal Al Suwaidi, the boss of Qatargas, wagered a decade ago that a massive boost in production would create a market large enough for his country’s main asset, the world’s biggest known gasfield. When it was discovered in 1971, Qataris were dismayed. Mr Suwaidi, who got his first job in the petroleum industry the following year, remembers there being a lingering disappointment that gas, not oil, had been found in the vast offshore North Field. Nobody traded gas then. Later a regional market developed in eastern Asia, with Japan and South Korea buying LNG from gas-rich Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, but gas remained oil’s underachieving younger sibling, lacking a global market.
拉斯拉凡是工业上的一个卓越成就,但这并非是一个既定的成功。如果当初一个人没有放手一搏,它就不会存在,而这个人正是卡塔尔天然气公司——世界上最大的已知气田——总裁萨瓦伊迪。他在十年前下注,认为大规模生产天然气将建立出一个足以成为其本国主要资产的交易市场。当1971年在卡塔尔发现天然气时,当地人民对此非常焦虑。萨瓦伊迪的在第二年找到了他在石油工业的第一份工作。他记得当时人们对于在广大的海外北田找到的是天然气而不是石油感到非常的失望。之后,随着日本和韩国开始从天然气储量非常丰富的印度尼西亚、马来西亚及文莱购入液化天然气,一区域性市场开始在东亚发展起来。然而,天然气由于缺乏全球市场,仍然是石油资源那未尽潜能的“同胞弟弟”。

Then in the late 1990s Mr Suwaidi set out to create such a market by taking three important steps. First, to build Ras Laffan and its extraction facilities, he pledged full co-operation with foreign partners. This may sound obvious. But the industry’s sorry state at the time had much to do with producer countries, including Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia, refusing to pay for superior foreign expertise, or accept the political costs of doing so. Not so the Qataris. Companies such as Shell, Total and Exxon Mobil became full partners, says Mr Suwaidi, and made all the difference.
接着,上个世纪九十年代末,苏瓦伊迪通过三个非常重要的步骤开始建立了这样一个市场。首先,建造拉斯拉凡,积极萃取设备,并承诺与外商伙伴通力合作。这可能听起来显而易见。但对于当时天然气工业的糟糕状态,在拒绝向国外先进生产国支付款项或政治成本的情况下,很大程度上需要与包括俄罗斯、伊朗、沙特阿拉伯在内的天然气生产国进行沟通。但卡塔尔人并非如此。苏瓦伊迪表示像壳牌、道达尔和埃克森美孚此类公司,与他们成为全面合作伙伴,这对他们影响很大。

Second, he focused on selling gas to faraway nations rather than Gulf neighbours. Only they would have enough demand for LNG in the long run. To do this he had to reduce prices and offer more flexible contracts. Japan became an early client and the first industrial nation to rely on long-distance gas deliveries. China and India followed as their economies began to boom. Europe, too, developed an appetite. In May this year Qatargas opened the largest European LNG import terminal at South Hook on the Welsh coast, supplying a fifth of Britain’s gas needs. South Hook is part-owned by the Qataris, hinting at Mr Suwaidi’s third innovation. National energy firms rarely pay for the vast infrastructure needed to liquefy gas, ship it in freeze tanks and regasify it close to consumers. Mr Suwaidi, by contrast, invested heavily in such facilities. Ras Laffan alone may have cost of the order of $60 billion (there are no official figures). He also commissioned a fleet of gas ships, twice the size of the biggest existing ones.
接着,他致力于向远距离国家出售天然气,而非海湾邻国。从长远来看,只有他们对天然气有大量需求。为此,他不得不降低价格,并提供更灵活的合作合同。日本成为了他们的早期客户,并是第一个依靠远距离天然气供应的工业国家。随着他们的经济开始繁荣,中国和印度接着开始接受远距离天然气供应。欧洲接着也发展了它在这一方面的“食欲”。今年五月,卡塔尔在威尔士海岸的南湖克建立了最大的欧洲液化天然气接收站,为英国供应其五分之一的天然气需求。南湖克液化天然气接收站有限公司部分归卡塔尔公司所有,这也暗示了苏瓦伊迪的第三次创新。国有能源公司很少支付建造液化气体所需的庞大设备,通常是将液化石油气装在冷冻箱中海运并在靠近买方的地方再气化。相反,苏瓦伊迪却在这些设备上投入巨资。仅拉斯拉凡单方就在这方面花费了600亿美元(非官方数据)。他同时还委任建造了一支天然气船队,其规模为现存天然气货船的两倍大。

His gamble paid off handsomely. Together with another Qatari firm, RasGas, Qatargas now dominates the world LNG market. The resulting flood of wealth has brought huge change at home. Qatar had no schools or hospitals when Mr Suwaidi was born in 1954. Since then its population has grown forty-fold. Its national income per head is now among the world’s highest. This year its economy may grow by 10%, and new capacity coming on-stream during 2009 will double Qatar’s LNG production capacity to 62m tonnes a year. By 2011 it expects to produce 77m tonnes a year, providing half as much energy as Saudi Arabia’s oil output.
他的赌局得到了可观的回报。连同另一家卡塔尔公司——拉斯嘎斯天然气公司,卡塔尔液化气公司现在世界液化天然气市场占主导地位,由此产生的巨大财富为该国带来了翻天覆地的变化。在1954年萨瓦伊迪出生的时候,卡塔尔没有任何的学校或医院。从那时开始,卡塔尔的人口已增长了四十倍。国民人均收入位居世界前列。今年,其经济可能将增长近10%,并且2009年新产量将使得卡塔尔的液体天然气年产量翻倍至六千二百万吨。到2011年,预计年产量将达到七千七百万吨,相等于萨特阿拉伯全年石油输出能量的一半。

But once that target has been hit, production will be capped, with no plans for further expansion. The era of bold innovation is drawing to a close. Speaking at a recent industry conference, Mr Suwaidi sounded nothing like a visionary. He rattled on about safety at his plants: an important subject, but hardly what one would expect to be his main preoccupation. “People give me a lot of credit but I just listen to what others say,” he says, tying a string of worry-beads around his thumb. How then did he get this far? He says he was just “lucky”, like one of Napoleon’s generals.
但由于没有进一步扩大的计划,一旦此目标达成,生产将受到限制。勇于创新的时代将是穷途末路。在最近的行业会议上,萨瓦伊迪看起来并不像是一个有远见的人。他喋喋不休地说着他所在工厂的安全问题:虽是一个重要的议题,但没有人想到这会是他的主要关注点。在其拇指上系着一串忘忧珠,他说到“人们给了我很多的赞扬但我只是听其他人说些什么罢了”。那么为什么他能如此成功?他说他只不过是“幸运”罢了,就像拿破仑众多幸运机会中的其中一个。

From seller’s market to buyer’s
从卖家转变为买家

Mr Suwaidi’s unexpected modesty comes after a gruelling few years. He appears to have been cowed by continual construction delays at Ras Laffan. Sam Ciszuk, an analyst at IHS Global Insight, says the plant’s completion has become “more like a test of endurance than a crowning moment”. On top of that, gas prices have collapsed over the past year. Spot prices fell by 75%, more even than oil. The gas equivalent of a barrel of crude now sells for around $20. The industry is seeing its first glut, not least because so much extra capacity has been built. Mr Suwaidi is a victim of his own success. He turned a seller’s market into a buyer’s market. Fortunately most LNG is bought on longish fixed-price contracts, otherwise things would be much more serious for him.
萨瓦伊迪,其意想不到的谦虚来自他那极其辛苦的几年。他似乎因拉斯拉凡不断的建设延误而像老黄牛般地忙碌着。HIS环球透视研究公司分析师山姆西卒克表示该工厂的完成与其说是“加冕时刻”,它更像是一场“考验耐力的测试”。最重要的是,天然气价格在去年的一年里暴跌。现货价格已下跌了75%,甚至比石油下跌更严重。与每桶原油等量的天然气现售价为20美元左右。该行业第一次看到产量过剩,这觉不仅仅是如此多的额外设施已建成的缘故。萨瓦伊迪是其自身成功的一名受害者。他将一买房市场变成了买方市场。而幸运的是,大多数的液化天然气是按长期合作合同的固定价格出售的,否则,对他来说情况将会更加糟糕。

Mr Suwaidi’s new-found conservatism mirrors a wider change in Qatar. His political masters, the ruling Thani family, have suspended exploration of the North Field, hoping to sustain output for 100 years. And they have backed plans by Russia and Iran to create a gas cartel analogous to OPEC. A secretariat is being set up in Doha. Qatar is becoming a new Saudi Arabia, more concerned with market stability than maximising short-term profits.
苏瓦伊迪自身新建立的保守观念同时也反映了卡塔尔的大规模变化。卡塔尔的政治名人——执政的阿勒萨尼家族,已经停止了对北田的勘探,并希望能维持先产量100年。并且,他们已拟定了由俄罗斯和伊朗支持,建立一个类似欧派克的卡特尔天然气公司的计划。秘书处现正于多哈组建。卡塔尔成为了新的沙特阿拉伯,但比起最大化的短期赢利,他更关注与市场的稳定性。

Even so, long-term demand for gas has never looked better. China and India look set to continue growing fast, as will their energy needs. Besides being cheaper than oil, gas emits less carbon dioxide when burned, so its attraction has grown along with rising concern about climate change. Some producers, like Canada, Norway and Britain, are running out of reserves. Meanwhile Russia’s aggressive energy policies have made its European customers wary. Qatar, by contrast, underlined its dependability by inviting America’s armed forces to build a large base there. Despite the current price slump, Mr Suwaidi’s faith in a global LNG market seems likely to be rewarded.
尽管如此,对天然气的长期需求量并未变得可观一点。中国和印度看上去将持续快速发展,当然其能源需求也会随之增长。除了价格仍然低于石油外,天然气燃烧后释放更少的二氧化碳气体。所以,随着人们日益关注全球变暖问题,其吸引力也会随之上升。一些生产商,如加拿大、挪威和英国正日益耗尽天然气储量。同时,俄罗斯的能源积极政策已经使得其在欧洲的客户提高警惕。而卡塔尔相比之下,通过邀请美军在其建立大型军事基地,则展现出了它的可靠性。尽管目前天然气价格低迷,但萨瓦伊迪对于全球液体天然气市场的信心似乎将得到回报。