Geospatial Analytics Shines A Light on Global LNG Trade (Part 1)

Demystifying LNG Supply Chain with Facility Intelligence and analyzing LNG trade routes with ship AIS data


In our recent article, we introduced the power of geospatial analytics and its ability to uncover small-scale changes occurring at one of the largest LNG export facilities in the world. We utilized Orbital Insight’s vehicle traffic and land use algorithms to monitor macro and micro level changes occurring at Cheniere’s Sabine Pass during the construction of a new liquefaction train. Now that the train is completed, we can monitor its impact on the global supply chain using Facility Intelligence. In this blog, we will shift our focus to Sabine’s LNG Supply Chain from a global shipment perspective. We will first use Orbital Insight’s algorithms to detect and visualize the construction of Sabine’s new shipping berth. We will then monitor export activity over time to answer the following questions: 

  • Where are the ships coming from? 
  • Where are they taking the material? 
  • What countries are importing the majority of this material? Has the volume of LNG to these locations increased now that Sabine has increased output with Train 6?

Visualizing Construction using Vehicle Traffic Data

The vehicle traffic trends at Sabine Pass changed dramatically over the construction phases. The traffic was low initially, nearing its peak as construction progressed, and fizzled out several months prior to project completion. While traffic volume decreased around the northern parts of the facility, it remained consistent and increased slightly on the Facility’s southeastern end, the location of Sabine’s 2 shipping berths (Figure 1). As discussed in the previous blog, Cheniere had confirmed the construction of a third shipping berth to accommodate new traffic brought on by 


a potential increase in export capacity. This new construction project, titled “Third Berth Expansion Project,” is set to be completed later this year. In accordance with a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) press release, the existing terminal has a single marine basin with two vessel berths. Each berth is capable of having up to 266,000 m3 of LNG for both import and export operations. The project's purpose is to “better accommodate the increased number of tankers arriving at the Terminal and bring an additional 180 tankers annually, increasing its total to 580 tankers per year”. A visual of the project’s overall vision can be found in Figure 2.

Figure 1: Changing Volume of Vehicle Traffic at Sabine Pass (2019 - Present)

Fig 2 Cheniere Vision of the Third Berth Expansion Project

Figure 2: Vision of the Third Berth Expansion Project

Understanding Supply Chain with AIS Data

The domestic supply chain of gas is largely hidden within the massive international pipeline system. Because of this caveat, it is hard to determine several factors contributing to the import, conversion, and export of liquefied LNG from Sabine Pass. Unless you are a stakeholder in the LNG business or have boots on the ground at the facility, you cannot simply determine the physical amount of volume of gas being piped to Sabine. With the help of AIS Data and Orbital Insight’s TerraScope platform, we can see how this hidden supply chain is managed through shipping logistics and the Automatic Identification System (AIS). AIS is simply an onboard automated tracking system, as required by the Internal Maritime Organization (IMO), that allows ships to determine the location of other ships nearby. The main goal of AIS is to prevent unnecessary reroutes and collisions at sea.

Orbital Insight’s AIS pipeline enables users to discover several hidden components of the global LNG trade. We will apply the same methods used in our macro and micro analysis of AOIs in the previous blog to AIS and get vital information about large ports and popular offshore trade areas. Because we want to know more about Sabine’s influence on LNG shipments, we can draw an AOI around the facility’s southernmost port. Further, we can apply a date range of our choosing. The results will include not only ship counts and volume, but also minute details about a ship’s location at any point, its speed over ground (SOG), the registration county, potential destinations, a vessel type code, and vessel status. While vessel type codes illicit information about the type of ship, the vessel status will tell us the ship’s current status at sea. We can use vessel statuses to determine whether a ship is sailing, at anchor, or moored to a dock. A moored status will indicate that a ship is either picking up or dropping off material. Figure 3 illustrates the heatmap of vessel traffic stemming from Sabine Pass over the construction phase of Sabine Train 6. We can immediately see the breadth of reach and influence the facility has over the transportation and delivery of LNG to markets on almost every continent. Next, we will use TerraScope to determine any changes to these patterns before, during, and after the completion of the facility’s new train.

Header Ship AIS Data Tracking fr Sabine Pass

Figure 3: Illustrates the heatmap of vessel traffic stemming from Sabine Pass over the construction phase of Sabine Train 6.

Impact of Sabine Train 6 on Global LNG Trade

First, we can look at the number of unique ships entering Sabine’s Port. The hypothesis is that an increase in unique ship counts following the completion of Train 6 will indicate that countries are indeed sending more ships to accommodate an increase in local LNG supply. Figure 4 confirms this hypothesis and shows a small but noticeable increase in unique ship counts as early as March 2022. The bar chart is symbolized by the country each ship is registered to, and each notch represents 1 unique ship.

Fig 4 Unique ship count by country of registration

Figure 4: Unique ship count by country of registration

The increase is more noticeable in ships registered to the United Kingdom, Malta, and the Marshall Islands, as shown in Figure 5. Overall, we see a general trend increase beginning in the summer of 2021.

Fig 5 Unique Ship Count by Reg Country per Mo Sabine Pass

Figure 5: Unique ship count by registration country per month at Sabine Pass.

Figure 6.1 represents every LNG tanker that has entered Sabine Port from 2019 to the present. Each section's size represents the number of trips taken by each ship. The Ribera Duero Knutzen, a ship sailing under the Spanish flag, traveled to Sabine Pass on 20 different occasions. The month of each trip can be found in Figure 6.2.

Fig 6 1 6 2 LNG tankers at Sabine Port 20 trips by Mo

Figure 6.1 represents every LNG tanker that has entered Sabine Port from 2019 to the present. Figure 6.2 shows the month of each of 20 trips that the Ribera Duero Knutzen traveled to Sabine Pass.

Analyzing LNG trade routes with AIS yielded some fascinating insights. For example, we learned that a vessel’s country of registration, as mentioned above, doesn't necessarily dictate where they are delivering gas. In other words, a ship registered in Malta isn’t necessarily carrying LNG picked up at Sabine Pass directly back to Malta. The relationship is not A to B to A. In most cases, the relationship is arbitrary. 

Let’s take a look at one particular ship, the Cadiz Knutzen, over the same three-year span. The Cadiz Knutzen is yet another LNG tanker sailing under the flag of Spain. While it’s true the tanker is delivering some material from Sabine to its home country, it is also delivering LNG to the countries listed in Figure 7, most notably Trinidad and Tobago.

Fig 7 The Cadiz Knutzen delivered from Sabine

Figure 7: The Cadiz Knutzen delivered some material from Sabine to its home country, Spain, but it also delivered LNG to the countries listed above, most notably Trinidad and Tobago.

Coming up next...

In the second part of this blog series, we will analyze: 

  • Where are ships delivering the LNG? 
  • What is the volume of the LNG being delivered and how has that volume changed over time? 

Stay tuned and come back for the continued analysis!

More to explore...

  • Facility Intelligence offers comprehensive visibility at any industrial facility to identify change, mitigate risk and gain operational insights
  • Download the eBook, 7 Keys to Your Supply Chain Success, and see how customers like Unilever, Celanese, BP, and others, are using geospatial analytics to gain Supply Chain Intelligence