What the full implications of the global gas revolution will be, it is still too early to say.
But the liquefied natural gas (LNG) market is set for a tumultuous decade, which will upset old business paradigms and leave many winners and some losers in its wake.
LNG is simply natural gas, cooled to minus 162°C to turn it into a liquid that can be easily transported by tanker. But from a niche product in the 1990s, it has rapidly become a critical way of transporting gas around the world. Explorers in remote areas used to be disappointed when they found gas instead of oil; now they know that they have a good chance of getting that gas to consumers.
The LNG market resembles the story of seven fat years followed by seven lean years. A dearth of new projects during the financial crisis has run into a surge in Japan's demand as it scrambles for alternative fuels after the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The result is a tight market and high prices for the lucky exporters, foremost among them Qatar, with 77 million tonnes per year of capacity. Commanding 30 per cent of global LNG output, Qatar is three times as dominant in LNG as Saudi Arabia is in oil.
This squeeze is likely to persist until at least mid-decade, as Qatar's moratorium on new projects, imposed in 2005, will now endure until at least 2014. But it is at the apogee of its dominance. Beyond 2016, a new wave of supply is on the horizon, with huge new finds in east Africa, Israel and Cyprus potentially joined by exports of surplus gas from southern Iraq and a restart of long-delayed plans in Nigeria.
A new Pacific giant is rising to challenge Doha: Australia's current and planned developments would take it to some 90 million tonnes per year towards the end of the decade. Yet Australia may be the victim of its own success. Weighed down by strict environmental standards and scarce skilled labour, the US$43 billion (Dh157.94bn) Gorgon and the $34bn Ichthys LNG plants are two of the most expensive natural resource projects ever. An Asian gas glut and lower prices would make several Australian projects uneconomic.
Above all, North America has emerged from nowhere as a major potential LNG exporter, due to its huge discoveries of shale gas. With LNG selling in Japan for about $16 per million British thermal units, versus US gas prices barely above $2, the temptation to arbitrage is irresistible. Eight proposed projects in the United States and three in Canada add up to almost double Qatar's capacity.
Not all will proceed, and they face challenges from environmentalists and domestic protectionists. But significant volumes of US LNG have the potential to create a global gas market, in which price differences between locales would represent only transport costs, instead of archaic pricing formulae.
For the Middle East, the implications are mixed. Iran, which specialises in missing opportunities, has clearly blown its chance of becoming a major LNG exporter. Qatar will enjoy some more years of high prices, but after that things look more challenging. Its ability to keep Asian LNG expensive while competing with Russian gas in Europe will be eroded. With little increase in gas output on the horizon, it will remain wealthy but will need to open new avenues of economic growth.
The LNG-importing economies, though - Kuwait, Dubai and soon Abu Dhabi and perhaps Bahrain - will find some relief from high prices. But this should not be an excuse to avoid rational pricing, better investment conditions and efficient use at home. The new world of LNG will favour the agile and adaptable over the timid and traditional.
Robin Mills is the head of consulting at Manaar Energy, and the author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis and Capturing Carbon