Several European nations, particularly those in the Baltic region, have in recent months been looking for alternative sources of energy to relieve them of dependence on Russia's Gazprom. One option is importing liquefied natural gas from countries such as Qatar, or even the United States. Indeed, Lithuania recently purchased a floating storage and regasification unit to anchor off its coast and facilitate LNG imports. Should this shift toward LNG continue, investors will have an opportunity to profit by buying stock in companies that transport the material. One such company is Golar LNG (NASDAQ:GLNG).

About LNG
The Baltic nations currently receive all of their natural gas via pipelines from Russia. Unfortunately, no pipelines connect these nations with other large producers in the Middle East, much less the United States or Canada on the other side of the Atlantic. Therefore, the only real alternative to Russia is for these nations to import natural gas by sea.

Unlike oil, natural gas cannot be easily transported over water. This is because natural gas is, as the name implies, a gas. Therefore, it will expand to fill whatever container it is put into; this property makes it hard to economically transport by ship in its gaseous state. The solution is to convert the natural gas into a liquid before shipping.

Of course, even transporting  LNG is no easy feat -- it requires the use of specialized ships to maintain the material in a liquid state. Golar has a large fleet of such ships that will naturally see a great deal of use if more countries begin to import natural gas.

Golar's business model provides steady cash flow
In the LNG shipping industry, the company that needs the liquefied natural gas transported will enter into a long-term contract to use a ship with an agreed-upon price per day. These long-term contracts differentiate LNG shipping companies from other shippers that generally depend on one-time jobs. While Golar LNG sometimes contracts ships for one-time trips, the general trend is to use long-term contracts. These give Golar LNG relatively steady cash flow and provide a high degree of forward visibility into earnings. That steady cash flow also enables Golar LNG to sustain a high dividend, boasting a yield of 3.83% as of the time of writing.

Strong growth prospects
Golar LNG has strong growth prospects by way of nine ships under construction, which are due to be completed and begin operating this year. This will increase the size of the company's current seventeen fleet of revenue-generating vessels, which will naturally result in growth on the top and bottom lines. 

Of course, in order for this growth thesis to play out, Golar LNG will need to secure contracts for these ships. That should not be too difficult, given the strong and growing demand for LNG. In addition, should additional European countries turn toward LNG imports to meet their energy needs, Golar LNG could construct even more ships to meet this need, further boosting profits.

Other shipping companies could benefit
Another company that could benefit if more European nations turn toward LNG imports is GasLog (NYSE:GLOG), which has fifteen ships in operation and nine under construction. Teekay LNG Partners (NYSE:TGP) could be another way to invest in the sector and could be especially appealing due to its lengthy contracts and high dividend of 6.25%.

Foolish takeaways
Several European nations are looking to reduce their dependence on Russian-sourced natural gas by importing LNG. This additional business is likely to prove highly profitable for the shipping companies that carry liquefied natural gas. Investors can play this trend by buying shares in LNG shipping companies.