World natural-gas consumption could grow 17% by 2017 as Chinese and US demand rises, the International Energy Agency said yesterday, potentially curbing growth in use of carbon-spewing coal. “On the long-term, our world energy outlook sees gas demand growing faster than any other fossil fuel to 2035, and it’s likely to overtake coal as the second most popular fuel and can provide a bridge, a bridge to a clean-energy future,” IEA director general Maria van der Hoeven told reporters. Van der Hoeven was speaking at the launch of a report by the Paris-based agency at the World Gas Conference in Malaysia. The report said Asia will be a major force in driving natural gas use to a projected 3.94tn cubic metres in five years. “Asia will be by far the fastest growing region, driven primarily by China, which will emerge as the third-largest gas user by 2013,” the IEA said. The US is currently the top world consumer natural gas, followed by Russia, according to the IEA. In the medium-term, the report said Chinese consumption should more than double to 273bn cubic metres by 2017, as it continues to look for imports of energy sources to power its huge economy. However, it says the projections are based on the assumption China can continue to maintain high growth rates. In the US, an oversupply of natural gas due to ample resources has dragged prices down, increasing the energy source’s competitiveness compared to coal, it said. Van der Hoeven said pricing was key to keeping gas competitive. “The future role of gas depends on an investment-friendly environment not only in upstream production but also in mid-stream transport infrastructure to bring it to market,” she said. A boom in gas use in the US “may even herald the end of the hundred-year dominance of coal in US power generation,” the report said. It said that in 2005 “coal produced almost three times as much power in the US as gas. By 2017, the race will be almost even.” The burning of natural gas emits much higher levels of the greenhouse gases blamed for causing global warming. In a separate report released last week, the IEA said natural gas could be poised for a “golden” age if environmentally friendly extraction is used to boost production. Higher gas output would moderate prices and could see global demand rise more than 50% between 2010 and 2035, overtaking coal as the second-largest primary energy source after oil, that report said. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil Corp, the world’s largest publicly listed energy company, warned yesterday that too much government regulation could undermine a rapid global expansion of gas output from a range of unconventional sources. Helped by a boom in shale gas, ExxonMobil has become North America’s largest natural gas producer, but energy firms face pressure for tighter regulation of the industry over concerns about the impact of drilling on the environment and also public concern that US gas prices could rise if the gas is exported. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson said governments had to ensure the right environment for future investments in gas projects. “Regulations should provide a clear, efficient roadmap for how to get things done, not a complex tangle of rules that are used to stop things from getting done,” Tillerson told the World Gas Conference in the Malaysian capital. “If government puts the development of these new sources of energy at a standstill, they will find their economies walking backwards,” he added. Tillerson did not explicitly single out US policy, but later told Reuters the country needs a “sound” energy policy and that putting off such a policy was “not particularly useful”. Executives who attended the conference said they assumed Tillerson’s comments referred to the recent controversy over unconventional gas development in the US and some said they were surprised by the forcefulness of his comments. “The recent North American experience in unconventional development has reminded the world of the value of competitive and free markets for improving the lives of consumers,” Tillerson said. “But technological breakthroughs that allow for unconventional gas recovery emanate from investments and industry in private markets, they are not the result of government policies that pick winners and losers.”from gulf times.