DAEGU, South Korea Oct 15 (Reuters) – Woodside Petroleum said on Tuesday it could build three floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants for its Browse project, as the firm banks on what it expects to be a cheaper technology to contain booming Australian development costs.
Australia’s biggest oil and gas firm, which plans to make a final investment decision on Browse in 2015, scrapped a $45 billion onshore proposal earlier this year and to opt for cheaper floating LNG plants.
“The next big signal for the marketplace is when the project enters front end engineering and design which we hope will be in the middle of next year,” Chief Executive Peter Coleman said in an interview.
“The basis is three floating vessels for Browse. That will be firmed up as we finalise the basis of our design.”
With $190 billion worth of LNG projects underway, Australia is set to become the world’s largest LNG exporter by the end of the decade, but more than half of the seven LNG plants currently under construction have suffered large cost blowouts.
“The exponential growth in prices, we’ve seen that flattened out. What we haven’t seen is a material decrease in prices,” Coleman said.
A series of floating LNG projects are underway or planned and by the end of the decade half a dozen or so plants, some weighing as much as six aircraft carriers and half-a-kilometre (0.3 miles) long, could be deployed on the world’s oceans.
According to analyst estimates, choosing to use floating LNG technology would mean a cost savings of 20 percent, though critics say the technology is untested.
Besides high costs, Woodside also faced opposition from the Western Australian government which had proposed establishing a gas export hub at James Price Point, with Browse LNG as the cornerstone project.
Coleman said more than 95 percent of the gas resources are held by Australia’s federal government, which has backed the move to develop floating LNG.
“The state leases only represent less than 5 percent of the total resource,” he said, adding that Woodside would continue to work with the state over the next 12 months.
Woodside has already signed on Shell, a joint venture partner and considered to be the global front-runner in floating LNG technology, to develop the Browse gas fields. Other joint venture partners include BP Plc, PetroChina , Mitsui & Co and Mitsubishi Corp.
While Woodside has cast a wider net for overseas development opportunities, the company will also have a large exploration programme at home beginning next year, Coleman said.
In Israel, Woodside is waiting for a court hearing on Oct. 20 on a challenge to the cabinet’s decision on exports.
Potential plans by Israel’s government to limit exports or route exports of gas through Turkey could make a potential deal for Woodside to buy a 30 percent stake in the country’s Leviathan gas field less attractive.
A court ruling may take a few weeks, Coleman said. “We’re hopeful the outcome will still stay the same.”
The Australian company also plans to take part in the next bidding round for offshore exploration blocks in Myanmar where Woodside’s expertise lies, Coleman said, in addition to the two blocks that the company participated through joint ventures.
“We are running seismic tests and hope to drill a well either next year or 2015,” Coleman said.
(Editing by Ed Davies and Rebekah Kebede)
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