TOKYO, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Japan's Toho Gas Co has signed a 20-year contract to buy about 300,000 tonnes of U.S. Cameron liquefied natural gas (LNG) annually from trader Mitsui & Co when the project starts production, the city-gas provider said on Thursday.
LNG imports by Japan, the world's top buyer of the super-cooled fuel, have jumped since the Fukushima nuclear disaster and utilities are looking to boost supplies from North America to diversify supply sources and lower prices.
Sempra Energy, which is developing the Louisiana-based Cameron LNG project, is waiting on permits for construction, and to export the gas to countries with which the United States does not have a free trade agreement, like Japan.
Sempra hopes to make a final investment decision to build the Cameron plant, which Mitsui has export rights to, later this year and begin operations by the end of the decade, pending approvals.
The United States is producing record amounts of natural gas thanks to a drilling boom and is taking steps to become a major export hub by pitching ahead of rivals in Australia and East Africa for Asian buyers even before projects begin construction.