* Prices to be linked to Henry Hub gas prices
* Kansai sees 30 pct saving compared with oil-linked prices
TOKYO, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Japanese utility Kansai Electric Power Co said it had agreed with a unit of oil major BP to buy 500,000 tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year for 15 years from April 2017.
Kansai Electric said prices for the purchases from BP Singapore Pte Ltd would be linked to Henry Hub natural gas prices in the United States, likely the first time a Japanese company has signed a deal to buy long-term LNG based on natural gas prices.
Asia's energy-hungry nations having been trying hard to scrap oil-linked natural gas prices as the high cost of the fuel threatens economic growth.
Removing the link between gas prices and oil and moving to the so-called hub pricing would drastically cut the cost of importing natural gas, but producer countries like Qatar have long opposed such moves.
Due in part to Japan's need to scour the globe to fuel power stations as most of its nuclear plants have been closed since a massive earthquake last year, LNG is expensive in Asia at nearly four times the cost of U.S. natural gas where a shale oil and gas boom has driven down prices.
Osaka-based Kansai, Japan's second-biggest power provider, expects to cut LNG purchase costs by roughly 30 percent compared with long-term contracts that are linked to oil prices.
Kansai said the super-chilled gas would be supplied from several LNG projects in places such as Egypt, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.
Asian liquefied natural gas (LNG) December spot prices stood at nearly $14 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), compared with U.S. natural gas prices of just over $3.70 per mmBtu.
Tokyo has been negotiating with Washington since last year to allow more shale gas projects to export LNG to Japan, which hopes to receive LNG shipped via the Panama Canal as early as 2015.
Chubu Electric Power, Tokyo Gas (Dusseldorf: 763660.DU - news) , Osaka Gas (Berlin: OSA.BE - news) Co and Sumitomo Corp (Other OTC: SSUMF.PK - news) have announced deals to buy U.S. shale gas, but formal U.S. government approval is required to export shale gas as LNG to Japan.