Seven LNG projects now under construction in Australia are expected to cost 140 billion Australian dollars (US$144 billion). By 2020, Australia could produce as much as one quarter of the world's LNG—up from less than a tenth today—making it one of the world's top two producers alongside Qatar.
The price of such rapid growth will be high. Resource workers are expensive and will become more so as the market for labor remains tight. Woodside Petroleum has already seen cost overruns of US$3 billion at its giant Pluto LNG project in Western Australia, partly because of labor shortages.
The soaring Australian dollar, up 65% against the U.S. dollar since the worst of the financial crisis, is also pushing up the cost of business for resources companies.
Australia-listed Oil Search said last month the dollar's rise has pushed up the budget on its Papua New Guinea project, operated by Exxon Mobil, by US$700 million, or nearly 5%.
BernsteinResearch says the cost per ton of Australian LNG could average as much as US$4,000, compared with about US$1,000 at Apache's Kitimat project in western Canada.
For Australia's LNG projects, politics are an unwelcome obstacle. There are moves at federal and state levels that could limit gas extraction on vast tracts of land deemed critical to the country's agricultural production. That shouldn't affect existing projects, though it could temper expansion—which actually could help Australia avoid the worst labor shortages.
Meanwhile, pressure is building to get the Australian projects up and running soon. Qatar—which produces some of the world's lowest-cost LNG—has a moratorium on further development of its gigantic North field in order to preserve its longevity. But the self-imposed ban ends in 2013.
The ABC reports that Inpex are optimistic about their project going ahead - Inpex LNG venture tipped to attract investors.
A senior economist says he expects Inpex will have no trouble in securing investors for its planned multi-billion dollar gas project in Darwin. The Japanese company announced yesterday that it had already sold its total projected liquefied natural gas output from the proposed operation.
A final investment decision on the project, to pump gas from the Timor Sea to Darwin via a 900 kilometre pipeline, is yet to be announced. But it is believed Inpex hopes initial construction work will begin in March.
Macquarie Bank senior economist Brian Redican says investors are likely to view the project as a low-risk venture. He says a surge in oil prices in recent years means Inpex is in a strong position to secure investors. "Because petrol prices and energy prices are so high, they are actually extraordinarily profitable at the moment," he said.
The Australian has yet another report on the prospect of the US exporting LNG from shale gas - US to enter LNG export market amid domestic supply glut. It will interesting to see the reaction in the US if local gas prices converge with those in Asian export markets (the same unpleasant adjustment that is beginning in Australia already).
AUSTRALIAN gas exporters had better watch out - there's a new kid on the block. The US could emerge as a major competitor to Australia’s burgeoning gas-export market, challenging the viability or expansion plans of close to a dozen Australian liquefied natural gas projects, according to Noel Tomnay, the head of global gas at UK-based energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
Traditionally an importer of gas, the US is experiencing a domestic supply glut owing to heavy investment in the production of shale gas in states like Texas. That’s depressing US gas prices and prompting some companies to investigate the potential of terminals on the US coast geared for export to take advantage of higher prices abroad.
Cheniere Energy recently signed two long-term gas supply deals with offtakers, including with BG Group, as it presses ahead with plans to build the first LNG export terminal in the US. Last month, Cheniere said it has enough supply locked into long-term contracts to start construction of a proposed LNG export terminal in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, in 2012.
Tomnay told Deal Journal Australia: "We’re of the view that North America will have 20 million tonnes of LNG capacity maybe as early as 2018. Consequently, that will remove potential market share for Australian LNG projects."
Investment totalling more than $140 billion has been earmarked for new Australian LNG terminals focused mainly on Asia since 2007, which could catapult Australia ahead of Qatar as the world’s largest LNG exporter within a decade. In the latest development yesterday, Japan’s Inpex signed 15-year deals to supply five Japanese utilities with $US70 billion ($68.3bn) worth of LNG from its proposed Ichthys project in the Northern Territory.
The other risk facing would be LNG exporters to Asia is China taking its first steps towards producing shale gas - Chinese shale gas find may cut LNG demand
ROYAL Dutch Shell has found shale gas in China, prompting fears that the country could develop enough domestic supply to limit imports of liquefied natural gas. An official at PetroChina, Shell's partner in the region, told Reuters that results from two wells had been positive.
In less than a decade shale gas has transformed the US from gas shortage to a point where companies are planning to export LNG, fundamentally altering the dynamics of the international gas market. Existing LNG producers had hoped that higher demand from China would offset the decline in imports to the US.
Shale gas is obtained by hydraulically fracturing rock, which requires large quantities of water and chemicals. There is concern among environmentalists that the process can contaminate groundwater supplies.
Analysts have predicted shale gas could supply up to half the natural gas produced in North America by the end of this decade.