China's natural gas imports more than doubled year-on-year to 2.7 billion cubic meters (cu m) in July, boosted by increasing demand for the fuel to cut emissions.
The July imports included 1.2 billion cu m of natural gas transported from Central Asia by pipeline and 1.5 billion cu m of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in a statement on Monday.
The surge in July helped imports for the first seven months double to 16.8 billion cu m.
The rise in imports signaled the country's rapidly growing appetite for natural gas. China's apparent demand for the fuel, which includes domestic production plus net imports, rose 24.5 percent year-on-year in July to 10.3 billion cu m, the highest in five months.
Apparent demand reached 73.4 billion cu m from January to July.
"Rising demand for natural gas has spurred the construction of more LNG terminals along the coast to handle LNG from overseas, which helps raise imports," said Wang Meng, a senior market analyst at JYD Online Co, a bulk commodity e-commerce platform based in Beijing.
China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), the nation's biggest offshore oil producer by capacity, in early August started construction on an LNG project, which includes terminals and ports, in southern Hainan province. The total estimated cost is 6.5 billion yuan ($1.02 billion).
Storage capacity at the terminal could be as much as 20 million tons a year after the project starts operation in August 2014. The Hainan project is one of six LNG terminals that CNOOC has under construction.
China's natural gas production is insufficient to meet demand because of the country's relatively small proven reserves, which will definitely increase reliance on imports, said Wan Xuezhi, an energy analyst at CIC Industry Research Center.
The NDRC figures showed that China's natural gas production rose 9.8 percent year-on-year in July to 8.2 billion cu m, taking output for the first seven months to 58.8 billion cu m.
Growth in demand, which is being encouraged by the government to reuduce emissions, has grown so fast that domestic production can hardly keep up, Wan said.
China, the world's biggest energy consumer, aims to slash its carbon emissions for each unit of GDP as much as 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels.
To encourage natural gas use, China has kept retail prices below market levels, causing huge losses for natural gas importers, including China National Petroleum Corp, the nation's biggest energy company by output.
"If domestic demand for the fuel continues its uptrend, natural gas pricing reform is urgent in order to increase the incentives for natural gas imports," Wan said.


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