S'pore keen to buy US shale gas: Shanmugam

PHOTO: S'pore keen to buy US shale gas: Shanmugam

Singapore is interested in importing shale gas from the United States, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised the issue during his visit to the White House in April this year, said Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam Thursday.

In growing signs that Singapore wants to tap on the shale revolution to strengthen its energy diversity and security, he said: "When the PM was on his official visit to the US, we raised it and we said we would be very happy to receive gas from the US."

Mr Shanmugam was responding to Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, who had asked if the US' discovery of shale gas would deepen connectivity in Asia as the US becomes an energy exporter to other markets.

When pressed on whether the US wants to sell shale gas to Singapore, the minister quipped: "At the end of the day, money knows no nationality."

Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister, made the point during a panel discussion on energy and connectivity in the South Asia region at the South Asian Diaspora Convention. The convention, organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), brings together policymakers, business leaders and academics of that region.

Shale gas can be imported and stored using the newly established liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, which allows Singapore to tap more diverse energy sources. Currently, Singapore receives the bulk of its energy through piped gas from Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Energy Market Authority told The Straits Times these diverse sources of energy "could include LNG exported from the US", but it added that "the buying and selling of gas will be done by industry players based on commercial arrangements".

Shale gas production has soared in the US in the last five years, thanks to fracking, a technology used to tap gas trapped in impermeable shale rock.

Mr Shanmugam said shale gas will drive US competitiveness in the next few years by lowering domestic energy costs and revitalising the manufacturing industry.

With the US challenging the Middle East as an exporter of energy, the shale revolution also offers Asian countries the chance to "collaborate to challenge the cartel of the producer companies" to have more affordable energy prices, said Mr Vikram Mehta, executive chairman of think-tank Brookings India, another panellist.

Besides energy, the other common interests that will deepen connectivity in Asia include infrastructure demand, and science and technology research, the panellists said.

Another topic they discussed is the role of the South Asian diaspora in the development of the region. The diaspora "is our brains and brawn which can facilitate transformation both in terms of ideas and money", said Professor C. Raja Mohan, visiting research professor at ISAS.

Opening the two-day convention, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said "diasporas are now recognised as a significant resource and potential agents for socio-economic transformation".

He added that Singapore's multireligious, multiracial and multilingual make-up is a microcosm of what is happening worldwide, with a growing pool of people moving between countries.

One such member of the diaspora is Mr Murli Kewalram Chanrai, 91, a businessman once listed by Forbes as one of Singapore's richest , who led Singapore companies to invest in India in the early 90s.

He was presented the Outstanding Member of the South Asian Diaspora award by President Tony Tan Keng Yam.

Mr Chanrai had joined his family's business, the Kewalram Group, at age 19 as a clerk and became its chairman in 1992, at age 70.

Now retired, he had also run several charitable projects, like funding medical research and giving free medical care to the needy in India.

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