If West Australian Premier Colin Barnett is looking for someone to blame for crushing his dreams to develop a massive gas processing hub near Broome he needs to go to The Hague. The seeds were sown in 1996, when a senior engineer at Shell’s headquarters jotted down an idea in an internal staff suggestion box. Why not liquify gas offshore rather than develop pipelines and convert gas into liquified natural gas onshore?
Nearly 20 years and 1.6 million man-hours later Shell is recruiting the first wave of workers for a massive vessel about 200 kilometres off the Kimberley coast, processing gas from its Prelude gas field. It will be the first vessel in the world that will be able to take gas from the reservoir below, liquify it and transfer the gas to cargo ships that will moor alongside the processing facility in the middle of the ocean.
It wasn’t that long ago that the technology, known as floating LNG, was viewed as an expensive option only to be used to unlock small or stranded gas fields like Prelude. This week the game changed. Woodside, Australia’s biggest oil and gas company, has thrown its support behind the technology, declaring it wants to be a world-leading floating LNG operator as it decided to unleash not just one, but three floating LNG ships to develop its Browse gas resources.
The Business Spectator has an interview with Woodside CEO Peter Coleman about Brows, Israel's Leviathan field and the possibility of shale gas exports from the US (something the Japanese seem keen to encourage). The BS's Robert Gottliebsen continuing his incessant anti-union / government diatribe (Coleman deftly ignored him thankfully) - KGB Interview: Woodside's Peter Coleman.
SB: Peter, looking at your presentation this week, you don’t seem particularly concerned about the potential impact of US shale-fed LNG hitting your markets. Could it have a material impact on prices or more particularly could it have an impact on the way LNG is priced?Gottliebsen has been banging this drum forever it seems, though the BS getting sold to Rupert Murdoch last year hasn't helped matters. Crikey's Guy Rundle has some thoughts about Rupert's malign influence on the Australian election (I liked the Gus Fring comparison) - In Murdoch-land, sans-public sphere, it all sounds the same.
PC: Well, there are probably two impacts of that. Firstly, the impact of US shale gas is quite clearly improving productivity in the US and making the US actually a more attractive place to invest, particularly for some industries around chemicals and plastics. And so, those energy intensive industries are actually moving back into the US and will soak up some of that excess supply. The supply that may get into LNG , and remember there’s not very much that has actually gone to FID yet …
AK: Sorry Peter, we’re getting some static.
PC: Yeah, so I was saying, the shale gas industry and the surge in gas available and into the US has really made the US attractive as an investment destination for those industries that are very energy intensive or turn gas into something else, being the chemicals and the plastic industry. The gas that’s left over and, you know, the gas that will be exported, you know, there are a couple of things there to consider. Firstly, there are a lot of projects at the moment on the drawing board. Not many have gone to a final investment decision. When you look at the total cost structure, the landed priced into Asia will be competitive but it won’t be low cost by any means. So, the headline price of $4 gas hitting Asia is just simply untrue. Now, the price is going to be in the low to mid-teens and it doesn’t really take very much of a rise in gas prices in the US to in fact make it marginal to uneconomic. So, I think that we a balance will occur, and an equilibrium point will occur, within industry within the next five to 10 years. What does that mean? There’s going to be an evolution in the market. The market is already evolving to become a more fungible commodity. I see trading hubs will be established. True training hubs will be established. Will that be in Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong? I can’t say, but Woodside is preparing ourselves for the advent of trading hubs. So, all of those sorts of things will come into play. The consumer is starting to see. You’re starting to see a proliferation now of regasification terminals being put into Asia. As many terminals that as currently exist are now being built in Asia, so there are 40 currently underway. So, clearly the buyers can see that the market is changing. It’s becoming more commoditised. Henry Hub gas just simply puts another gas stream into that. I wouldn’t see Henry Hub any differently from gas that’s going to come out of East Africa or other parts of the world. It’s just another gas stream that’s going to come in.
Getting out and about in Brisbane of a morning, you’re greeted with something you’ve forgotten: this is a one-owner town, newspaper wise. Looking at a news rack and seeing The Australian and The Courier-Mail side-by-side — and nothing else — it’s a sort of parody of pluralism. Yeah, I know it’s newspapers, and having a monopoly on them is a little like cornering the spats market, no one under 30, blah blah, etc, but it’s still the way a city talks to itself, the public face of its dialogue. And yes, there’s other TV networks — supposing that they differ in any significant fashion — and the ABC, etc, but still.
There’s a pseudo-pluralism at play that still rankles — would you like the broadsheet which does Kevin Rudd slowly, or the tabloid that sinks the slipper? The Courier-Mail runs with a “Does this man ever shut up?” cover while The Daily Telegraph has a “Mr Rude”, Mr Man parody, using allegations by a make-up artist from a debate run by Sky News — a broadcaster Rupert Murdoch owns a stake in — that Rudd was a bit of a grump. Such “front pages” are nothing of the sort. They’re propaganda posters which happen to be attached to the front of a newspaper, their purpose political as much as commercial. Knowing that people don’t buy newspapers, but still see them around, they go for the microsecond hit, the fast meme. Which may be enough, when aggregated for a Coalition win, without anything else whatsoever.
Really, to talk about the election without mentioning this — the framework of information within which people will make their decision — is really to aid and abet the process. The whole country has become a leagues club owned by a monolithic media corporation; pokies in the main room, a debate going on in the entertainment lounge, the ownership and core business a series of windfalls and rents — mining, sports rights — with the ultimate ownership arrangements a matter of mystery. But to mention this every time is the pathway to madness. So the debate cannot help but be skewed, every time we tap out a line about costings or paid parental leave or whatever. That’s really the genius of Murdoch taking to Twitter — he now hides in plain sight. When he was a mysterious presence behind the scenes, speculation on his motives and power were endless. Now he simply tells us in his weird telegrammatic/spoken-word style that he wants Rudd turfed — and pretty much nothing more can be said about it.
Thus, as soon as the campaign started, the Tele was off and running with its front-page propaganda campaign (even though some of the news within is played — or delivered — straight). Two weeks later, in its major market of western Sydney — perhaps the latest place with a large, old-style working class and literate tabloid readers, out of the social media/The Project/etc carnivale loop — Labor is suddenly tanking, its numbers running well below the national average. What a surprise! What could possibly have created this sudden shift, this bifurcation in the numbers, we go. Is it the boats? Is it the negativity? Is it being mean to TV crew? We know what it is, but we can’t talk about it because that would be the politics of how we do politics, of who controls the information on which we make our decisions. Rudd quite sensibly put his marker down on Murdochracy quite early — and then left it alone, also quite sensible. Because you either run on that, and nothing else, suggest an all-encompassing undemocratic process, and risk the charge that you are sledging the umpire, or you leave it alone — and try and deal with it by a series of guerrilla tactics.