One of the biggest but underfollowed trends in the energy space over the past few years has been the growing demand for natural gas in Asia. Japan and China in particular have greatly increased their imports of the resource. This trend does not appear to be about to change anytime soon. In fact, these countries and others in the region are expected to grow their imports of natural gas in the coming years.

As always, when there is a growth trend like this, there is the opportunity for smart investors to profit. One way to profit off of this trend is to invest in companies positioned to become suppliers to the region.

Mamba field in Mozambique positions Eni well
One company well-positioned to supply natural gas to the region is Eni (E 0.33%)This is because the Italian oil and gas giant owns a substantial stake in an enormous natural gas field located off of the shore of Mozambique. This gas field, dubbed Mamba, is one of the largest that has ever been discovered as it is estimated to contain at least 85 trillion cubic feet of gas. 

Mozambique is ideally positioned to use as a resource base to provide gas to Asia because of the country's location along the Indian Ocean in East Africa:

Source: Geographic Guide. 

From this position, all Eni will have to do to get the gas to Asia is ship it straight across the Indian Ocean. This is quite obviously a much shorter trip than shipping it from other places that have become major natural gas production centers in recent years, such as the eastern United States. The shorter distance could also mean lower shipping costs, which may result in several Asian countries preferring Mozambique gas over U.S. gas.

The opportunity to become a major gas supplier to Asia has not escaped Eni, which has begun to develop the massive Mamba field along with the infrastructure to export this natural gas to countries outside of Africa. For example, back in April, Eni began soliciting bids for the construction of a floating liquefied natural gas plant in Mozambique.

This is just one of the plants Eni intends to build. In total, Eni plans to build one onshore LNG plant and two offshore ones to facilitate the export of the gas from the Mamba field, since it will be necessary to convert the natural gas into a liquid state if it is to be shipped anywhere outside of Africa. The company plans to have these plants constructed and beginning to export natural gas by 2020.

Statoil has opportunities just to the north
Another company well positioned to become a major supplier of natural gas to Asia is Norway's Statoil (EQNR 0.50%)

Statoil owns a 65% working interest in offshore Block-2 in the country, with ExxonMobil (XOM -1.10%) owning the remaining 35% interest. This block contains four gas fields that have been discovered so far: Mronge, Zafarani, Tangawizi, and Levani.

Source: Statoil. 

These four fields provide Statoil with much the same opportunity Eni has, just on a smaller scale. That's because these four natural gas fields contain less gas combined than Eni's field. However, these four fields are estimated to contain 15-20 trillion cubic feet of gas, which still makes this one of the richest natural gas basins in the world.

Statoil has actively been developing this area in order to position it as a major exporter to Asia. Like Eni, Statoil is constructing an LNG plant in the African nation in conjunction with BG Group (NASDAQOTH: BRGYY) to facilitate these exports. However, Eni may beat them to producing LNG, as this plant is not expected to be complete until 2021 or 2022. This does not diminish Statoil's opportunity, though, since there should be sufficient LNG demand emanating from Asia for both companies to prosper.

Huge opportunity thanks to high Asian growth rate
So, just how big is the opportunity in supplying natural gas to Asia? In a word, huge. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that over the 2010-2040 period, the total natural gas consumption of all the OECD-member nations in Asia will increase from 6.7 trillion cubic feet per year to 9.9 trillion cubic feet per year.

However, even stronger consumption growth is expected to occur in those Asian nations that are not members of the OECD. In these nations, the EIA projects natural gas consumption will increase from 13.9 trillion cubic feet per year to 36.3 trillion cubic feet per year over the 2010-2040 period. This is an average growth rate of 3.3% per year.

In conclusion, both Statoil and Eni are ideally positioned to become major suppliers of natural gas to Asia, which is expected to be the most rapidly growing market in the world between now and 2040. Investors looking to get in on this trend may want to consider either of these companies as a good way to do it.