Liberalization Key to Brazil’s Natural Gas Market Growth

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By J Robinson

As one of the largest renewable energy producers in the world, Brazil’s relatively recent foray into natural gas markets could probably be euphemistically described as “unplanned.”

When it became clear by the 1980s that the country’s hydroelectric reservoir system would be insufficient to meet growing national demand for electricity, the Brazilian government began exploring its options to increase the supply of thermal feedstocks for power generation.

Natural gas was one of the most appealing options, given its cleaner emissions profile compared to coal, fuel oil and diesel. By the mid-1990s, Brazil began moving forward with the construction of GASBOL, the longest natural gas pipeline in South America, stretching 1,960 miles from production fields in Bolivia to consumer regions in Brazil.

When GASBOL become fully operational in March 2000, the domestic supply of natural gas in Brazil roughly doubled overnight. The future looked bright. The era of Petrobras’ legal monopoly was over and many foreign investors came seeking opportunities in both the upstream and downstream natural gas markets.

Over the last 15 years Brazil has come up short on the vision many had for a diversified, transparent and competitive natural gas market. Today, Petrobras is responsible for roughly 90% of domestic gas  production. The state-owned oil-and-gas company effectively owns 100% of imported natural gas coming from Bolivia and from the country’s three LNG import terminals.

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