pluto lng woodside

Pluto LNG The first cargo of Pluto LNG sets sail for Japan, image (c) Woodside

(Bloomberg) — Woodside Petroleum Ltd., Australia’s second-largest oil producer, said first-quarter sales increased 21 percent, boosted by its A$15 billion ($15.5 billion) Pluto liquefied natural gas project.

Sales climbed to $1.45 billion in the three months ended March 31, from $1.2 billion a year earlier, the Perth-based company said today in a statement. That compares with UBS AG’s estimate of $1.43 billion.

Woodside has increased production and sales following a stronger-than-expected start a year ago at its Pluto LNG venture in Western Australia. The energy company, which is also planning to develop the Browse and Sunrise LNG ventures to tap Asian demand, is expanding overseas as the Australian industry faces rising costs and competition.

Shares of Woodside fell 1 percent to A$34.76 as of 10:50 a.m. Sydney time, while the benchmark index fell 0.5 percent.

The company ended talks with other owners of gas resources to gain supplies for a Pluto expansion, the company said in the statement. Woodside last year put a proposed second phase on hold after its drilling campaign failed to find enough gas.

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s Scarborough field off Western Australia with BHP Billiton Ltd. was seen as a potential source of supply to expand Pluto, Citigroup Inc. said in an April 4 report. Exxon now plans to develop a floating LNG project for Scarborough, according to documents the company filed earlier this month with the Australian government.

’No Options’

“Pluto expansion has no other options without further exploration success,” Mark Greenwood, Citigroup’s Sydney-based energy analyst, said in the report.

Woodside is “continuing in the pursuit of expansion gas” and has further drilling planned in the region over the coming years, according to its statement.

Production rose 55 percent to 21.9 million barrels of oil equivalent from 14.1 million barrels a year earlier, the company said. UBS forecast 21 million barrels.

Woodside will consider accelerating the return of cash to shareholders after scrapping a plan to develop the Browse project by building an onshore site in Western Australia at an estimated cost of $46 billion, the company said last week. Woodside said it will study alternatives, including floating LNG and a pipeline to existing facilities.

– James Paton, Copyright 2013 Bloomberg.

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