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China's gas imports jump to record high as winter weather bites

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's natural gas imports soared to a record in December as the country battled a winter supply crunch, while crude oil imports eased sharply from near-record highs a month earlier, customs data showed on Friday.

December gas imports, including pipeline imports and tanker shipments of LNG, came in at 7.89 million tonnes, 20 percent above November's previous record of 6.55 million tonnes, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

Imports for the whole of 2017 jumped 27 percent from 2016 to a record of 68.57 million tonnes.

A massive government push to heat millions of homes and power thousands of factories with natural gas in northern China has led to demand for the fuel outpacing supply, while delivery infrastructure has found it hard to cope.

"LNG imports last month reached new highs according to our cargo monitoring and pipeline imports from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan also ramped from previous month," said Diao Zhouwei, analyst of IHS Markit.

Record imports by state energy firms and higher Chinese production have pushed down domestic wholesale LNG prices in north China. Prices were around 5,500 yuan ($848.44) per tonne this week, off 45 percent from peaks seen in late December.

(Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Richard Pullin and Kenneth Maxwell)

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