Worldwide natural gas consumption has increased over the last ten years, but the gains have been regionally uneven. Growth rates have been high for Japan and Australasia, as well as for many developing countries with gas discoveries of their own. But the U.S. fell to a twenty-one year low in 1986 and gas markets have stagnated in such important European markets as Germany, France and the Netherlands. The effect of disparate regional demand patterns on international gas trade, especially LNG, has been to reduce expectations well below those of the early 1970s.

While proved gas reserves worldwide compare favorably to those of oil, many gas discoveries are remote from consuming markets, and thus costly to commercialize. Less than half of the world's total gas reserves are dedicated to specific local or export market outlets. An equally large quantity of gas may also be classified as exportable surplus -- large enough to support an export project, but with no market outlet yet available. Since new export commitments are not growing as rapidly as gas discoveries in major export regions, the exportable surplus category is steadily increasing.

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