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Driven by surging natural gas consumption in Asia and the United States, its global use rebounded 7.4 percent from its 2009 slump to 111.9 trillion cubic feet in 2010, according to a new Vital Signs Online report from the Worldwatch Institute. This increase puts natural gas's share of total energy consumption at 23.8 percent.
The world's largest increase in natural gas use was in the United States, where low prices triggered a 1.3 trillion-cubic-feet increase to 24.1 trillion cubic feet, just over one-fifth of global natural gas consumption. But the Asia Pacific region experienced the strongest growth, with China, India, South Korea and Taiwan experiencing demand growth of over 20 percent. China led the region's growth by consuming 3.9 trillion cubic feet, or 3.4 percent of world usage.
The former Soviet Union saw its natural gas demand bounce back by 6.8 percent in 2010 and Russia accounted for 70 percent of regional growth. In the European Union, natural gas consumption increased by 7.4 percent while the Middle East saw a 6.2 percent rise in demand.
Demand triggers production
Natural gas producers have responded to this revived demand with a 7.3 percent boost in production. The United States maintained its position as the leading source of natural gas, accounting for just under one-fifth of the world's total production in 2010. In Russia, production jumped 11.6 percent. In the Middle East, growth in production of natural gas far outstripped that of consumption, rising by 13.2 percent.
Two major developments this year have affected the stability of global natural gas markets. While the political unrest brought about by the "Arab Spring" slowed production in North Africa, the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has led countries around the world to reconsider their dependence on nuclear power. Report authors Saya Kitasei and Ayodeji Adebola write, “Natural gas is likely to play a major role in filling the gap left by idled and phased out nuclear plants."
Further highlights from the study:
* The share of global natural gas trade represented by liquefied natural gas (LNG) surpassed 30 percent in 2010 for the first time.
* Russia maintained its status as the world's leading exporter of natural gas, accounting for 27.5 percent of global pipeline trade.
* Gas flaring, or the burning of excess gas, is on the decline in Nigeria but remains a substantial environmental threat in many countries.