Temptingly soft liquefied natural gas prices are prompting Turkey to turn its back on traditional pipeline suppliers Russia and Iran, which have lost out to the US and Qatar as the main source of gas to the lucrative Turkish market.

Prioritising the purchase of cheaper LNG has also played a key role in diversifying Turkey’s energy supply sources.

While pipeline purchases require long-term contracts on usually fixed prices, LNG offers price flexibility and timely delivery when domestic energy consumption increases.

Turkey is still expected to import most of its gas needs through pipelines from neighbouring Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan, but attention has turned to spot LNG while prices are low.

Data from Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EPDK) shows the share of LNG imports in total gas purchases stood at 19.5% in 2017 before rising to 22.5% in 2018 and hitting 28% in 2019.

LNG imports are heading for a record this year. They outpaced pipeline deliveries for the first time in March, according to an EPDK report that said Turkey imported 2 billion cubic metres of LNG that month, or about 52.5% of its total gas imports.

The LNG import bonanza has been partly aided by the expansion of Turkey’s LNG infrastructure capacity in recent years.

The US has been the main beneficiary. US LNG imports soared by 242% to almost 290 million cubic metres in April, compared to the same month a year ago, the EPDK data show.

Overall, gas imports from Russia and Iran plunged in the first half of the year, while LNG imports from the US grew by 144% and purchases from Qatar increased by 124%.

Algeria remained the top LNG provider to Turkey because of a long-term supply deal.

Pipeline gas imports fell by almost 23%, while LNG imports grew 44.8% during the period as the US and Qatar LNG displaced expensive pipeline imports from the traditional suppliers.

Official figures show that imports from Iran and Russia respectively tumbled by 44.8% and 41.5% in the first half of this year compared to the same period of 2019.

Reel deal: Turkey has landed a huge gas discovery at the Tuna-1 well in the Black Sea but is likely to need expertise and investment from foreign players to eventually bring the find online. (Upstream cartoon 28 August, 2020) Photo: Picture RYTIS DAUKANTAS/UPSTREAM

Gas imports in the January-June period were down 3.5%, to 22.5 billion cubic metres, with Turkey importing 12 Bcm via pipeline and the rest in the form of spot LNG cargoes.

Pipeline imports from Azerbaijan grew by 23.5% to 5.5 Bcm, thanks to rising supplies through the new Trans Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline.

Turkey imported 46% less gas from Iran — just over 2 Bcm — as imports were halted from April to June following an explosion blamed on Turkish Kurdish separatists.

Likewise, imports from Russia fell by 41% in the period to 4.7 Bcm as Turkey reduced purchases to the minimum.

Turkey, under its long-term LNG contract with Algeria, imported the highest LNG volume from the North African producer, at 3 Bcm.

However, the highest spot LNG volumes were imported from Qatar, at 2.85 Bcm. Spot LNG imports from the US grew to reach almost 2.2 Bcm in the first half of the year.