The oil market may still be in turmoil but that's not stopping global energy giants from planning for the future. One big part of the future of energy is the growing need for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, as a way to move natural gas from places of abundance to areas where it's needed. This is why ExxonMobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) and its Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil Limited (NYSEMKT:IMO) are looking to invest up to $25 billion on an LNG export facility on Canada's West Coast.
Details on Exxon's LNG project
This past week Exxon and Imperial disclosed their strategy to build the first phase of their West Coast Canada LNG project, or WCC LNG. Exxon sees its 40 years of experience developing LNG projects as putting it in the best position to put together a viable Canadian LNG project. The partners hope to receive the various approvals for the project over the next two years so that a final investment decision can be made by 2017.
If the partners do move ahead with the project it's estimated that the first phase alone would cost $15-$25 billion dollars and it wouldn't start operating until 2024. Further, the wide cost range considers two different options with one option being a barge-based marine facility while the other option is to build an onshore terminal. So, suffice it to say this is a very early stage project.
Moving ahead while others wait
Despite the fact that this is a very early stage project, Exxon is hoping to position itself as one of the first LNG projects to break ground in Canada. That would be quite a feat as there are currently 18 proposed projects that would export LNG from Canada's West Coast. However, to date not one of the project sponsors have offered up a final investment decision. This is due to uncertainty surrounding tax and environmental laws in Canada as well as the upending of the global oil market, which is how LNG is priced.
Because of this growing uncertainty most of the currently proposed projects are on the back burner. It also doesn't help matters that the cost of LNG projects has spiraled out of control in recent years. This is why Apache Corporation (NYSE:APA) recently abandoned its pursuit of LNG by selling its stakes in two Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) led projects, including one in Canada. Meanwhile, the leading Canadian LNG project, Pacific North West LNG, which a joint venture led by Malaysia's Petronas, was recently put on hold. The state-owned energy giant still needs to overcome some environmental hurdles with Canada's First Nations as well as overall issues with LNG project costs.
Suffice it to say the field is wide open in Canada at the moment, which has provided Exxon an opening to be the first company to break ground.
The world's energy giants aren't completely shying away from major projects, even if they are reviewing those projects more closely. In fact, ExxonMobil is looking to take advantage of the caution of others to step in front of 18 other proposed LNG projects in Canada because it believes that it can build the most economically viable project in the country. So, while it will be nearly a decade before that project will deliver any tangible return to investors ExxonMobil knows that the energy market of tomorrow will be vastly different from the one we're living in today. It's this long-term view that LNG will be a much bigger part of tomorrow market that's behind the company's decision to strike now and try and take advantage of the market's worries to better position itself for that future.