With only a few export terminals approved in the U.S. and endless regulatory government approvals, we have to be extremely patient before the U.S. will be able to ship its first cargo of LNG to a non-free trade country. As a matter of fact, other countries saw the huge opportunity for LNG exports since demand for the commodity notably increased in emerging markets.
However, there is a way to get involved right away in the race for LNG exports and claim your share of the profit. Australia is developing its abundant untapped natural gas resource and several LNG projects are under way in a race to make the most of the opportunity. Some major U.S. and international producers are currently involved in the play, but timing is key.
A tremendous opportunity at your doorstep
Australia is currently the fourth largest natural gas producer in the world. However, with more than 819 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas reserves, many producers got interested in the potential that this country had to offer. Several LNG projects are either planned or under construction, and these projects could make Australia the world's largest producer by 2020.
Furthermore, in 2012, gas exports accounted for 21 million tonnes while oil and gas production totaled $29.4 billion in economic benefits, 2% of Australia's GDP. By 2020, the industry is expected to export approximately 85 million tonnes and contribute about $65 billion or 3.5% of Australia's GDP. My last article discussed the North West Shelf Venture, the first Australian LNG project that was built in the 1980s.
The Gorgon LNG Project
Off the West Coast of Australia, the $52 billion Gorgon LNG project is a joint-venture between three major participants (a few other minor partners own the remaining 2.7% interest). Notably, the resources originally in-place have been estimated at 40 Tcf of natural gas, a massive deposit formerly discovered by Chevron (NYSE:CVX).
Thus, Gorgon will include a 15 million metric-ton-per-year LNG plant and a domestic gas plant that will be built on Barrow Island, about 43 miles from the Greater Gorgon Area gas fields. LNG will be offloaded to be shipped primarily to markets mostly in Asia, while domestic gas will be piped to the mainland. Chevron has 47.3% working interest in the project.
Chicago Bridge & Iron (NYSE:CBI) was contracted to provide the engineering, procurement, fabrication and construction of two full containment LNG tanks, four condensate tanks, and the associated infrastructure. Furthermore, a joint-venture formed between CB&I and Kentz contracted $2.3 billion for the mechanical and electrical work on the Gorgon project.
On March 12, 2013, John Watson, Chevron's CEO reiterated its optimism on the project: "Our key development projects remain on track, and we are well positioned to deliver our 2017 target of 3.3 million barrels of oil-equivalent production first announced three years ago. In addition, our project queue is gaining momentum to deliver growth beyond 2017."
The second major partner, ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), owns 25% working interest in the project. Gorgon is one of two projects in Australia for the major producer, Scarborough is the other project that is being assessed at this time for commercial viability. Thus, an affiliate of ExxonMobil executed long-term sales and purchase agreements with PetroChina International and Petronet LNG of India.
Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS-A) also owns 25% working interest in the joint-venture. Shell has had a strong presence in Australia since the beginning of the natural gas exploitation back in the 1980's with its 16.67% partnership in the first Australian LNG project, North West Shelf Venture.
Shell has a 6.4% working interest in the Wheatstone LNG project, a joint-venture targeted to be commissioned in 2016. Finally, it plans to develop for 2017 a floating LNG terminal named Prelude, to be located about 125 miles off Australia's West Coast.
The Gorgon LNG project is expected to be a strong driver for the companies involved. With an estimated 40 Tcf of natural gas beneath the surface, the joint-venture is sitting on a formidable resource deposit quietly waiting to be exploited. The capital investment in the project is ambitious, with at least $52 billion, but the risks are shared between several producers.
Currently, one sure winner is CB&I, the infrastructure company, for providing all the equipment in order for the facility to operate. The company's expertise in that field is well known and represents also a very good opportunity for investors to get involved in the play as well.
Undeniably, an expected $64 billion in benefits will boost Australia's GDP with that project, and about $40 billion in government revenue is also estimated to be generated over its 60-year lifespan. That kind of benefit does not come alone, and the producers involved are set to produce some serious cash flow in the process.