Australia on track to become world’s largest LNG exporter

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Australia is on track to surpass Qatar as the world’s largest LNG exporter, according to Australia’s Department of Industry, Innovation, and Science (DIIS).

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) also reports that Australia already surpasses Qatar in LNG export capacity and exported more LNG than Qatar in November 2018 and April 2019. Within the next year, as Australia’s newly commissioned projects ramp up and operate at full capacity, the EIA expects Australia to consistently export more LNG than Qatar.

Australia’s LNG export capacity increased from 2.6bn cf/d in 2011 to more than 11.4bn cf/d in 2019. Australia’s DIIS forecasts that Australian LNG exports will grow to 10.8bn cf/d by 2020–2021 once the recently commissioned Wheatstone, Ichthys, and Prelude floating LNG (FLNG) projects ramp up to full production. Prelude FLNG, located offshore in north-western Australia, was the last of the eight new LNG export projects that came online in Australia in 2012 through 2018 as part of a major LNG capacity buildout.

Starting in 2012, five LNG export projects were developed in north-western Australia – the Pluto, Gorgon, Wheatstone and Ichthys onshore projects, and the offshore Prelude FLNG project. The total LNG export capacity in north-western Australia is now 8.1bn cf/d. In eastern Australia, three LNG export projects were completed in 2015 and 2016 on Curtis Island in Queensland – Queensland Curtis, Gladstone, and Australia Pacific – with a combined nameplate capacity of 3.4bn cf/d. All three projects in eastern Australia use natural gas from coalbed methane (CBM) as a feedstock to produce LNG.

Most of Australia’s LNG is exported under long-term contracts to three countries – Japan, China, and South Korea. An increasing share of Australia’s LNG exports in recent years has been sent to China to serve its growing natural gas demand. The remaining volumes were almost entirely exported to other countries in Asia, with occasional small volumes exported to destinations outside of Asia.

For several years, Australia’s natural gas markets in eastern states have been experiencing natural gas shortages and increasing prices, reports the EIA, because CBM production at some LNG export facilities in Queensland has not been meeting LNG export commitments. During these shortfalls, project developers have been supplementing their own production with natural gas purchased from the domestic market. The Australian government has implemented several initiatives to address domestic natural gas production shortages in eastern states.

Several private companies have proposed to develop LNG import terminals in south-eastern Australia. Of the five proposed LNG import projects, Port Kembla LNG (proposed import capacity of 0.3bn cf/d) is in the most advanced stage, having secured the necessary siting permits and an offtake contract with Australian customers. If built, the Port Kembla project will use the floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU)
Hoegh Galleon, starting in January 2021.

Figure 1: Australian LNG infrastructure

Source: EIA

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