0359 GMT January 22, 2018
China — already the biggest importer of oil and coal — is the world's third biggest user of natural gas behind the United States and Russia, but has to import around 40 percent of its total needs as domestic production can't keep up with demand, according to Reuters.
Data compiled from the Thomson Reuters Eikon terminal indicates China's 2017 imports of pipeline gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) will top 67 million tons, up by more than a quarter from a year earlier. LNG imports alone surged more than 50 percent.
The data, which includes LNG tanker arrivals to China and pipeline monthly import flow estimates, is preliminary as December figures are not yet available.
China still lags Japan, with gas annual imports of around 83.5 million tons, all as LNG, but its overall gas imports topped Japan's in September and again in November, government data and shipping flows show.
Analysts said the trend is set and China should top Japan for the full year in 2018.
"Both LNG and pipeline imports will continue to increase in the next few years. We expect China to overtake Japan as the world's largest gas importer in 2018," said Miaoru Huang, Asia gas and LNG senior manager at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
"But Japan will remain as the No.1 LNG importer till around 2028," she added.
China last year started to move millions of households and many industrial facilities from coal to gas as part of efforts to clean its skies, sparking an unprecedented rally in overseas import orders.