Japanese utilities may face a delay in receiving the first LNG cargoes from an OAO Gazprom-led project in Russia, recent reports suggest.

Sakhalin Energy Co. may start shipments of the clean-burning fuel by March, from the Sakhalin-2 project north of Japan, after final commissioning of the facilities next month, reports news agency Bloomberg.

The first cargoes had been due to be shipped in January, Gazprom had said in June last year (2008).

Gazprom, which currently exports to European customers via pipelines, aims to become a global energy supplier by selling LNG, gas chilled to a liquid for shipment by tanker. The delay in supplies may not affect customers because a global recession has reduced demand for gas from power plants and industries, increasing inventories.

Loading will begin on 19th February at the $22bn development off Russia’s Pacific coast, in a process that will take several weeks, reports the Tehran Times.

Tokyo Electric has agreed to buy as much as 1.2 million tons per year of LNG from Sakhalin-2 for 22 years, according to Sakhalin Energy’s website.

Gazprom owns 50% plus one share of Sakhalin Energy Co., while Royal Dutch Shell Plc has a 27.5% share, Mitsui & Co. holds 12.5% and Mitsubishi Corp. operates 10%.