Australia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports have weathered the pandemic well, totalling 78.3 million tonnes (Mt) in the last calendar year, up from 77 Mt the year before. However, the lack of gas could be a threat to the future success of Australian LNG exports.
The International Group of LNG Importers (GIIGNL) ranks Australia as the world’s biggest LNG supplier in 2020 with 77.8 Mt imported from Australia by its members, just ahead of Qatar with 77.1 Mt.
The Department of Industry’s latest Resources and Energy Quarterly forecasts that this financial year Australian LNG will still be Australia’s third-largest export after coal and iron ore. LNG exports are expected to be worth $32.5 billion, behind iron ore at $114.7 billion and coal (metallurgical and thermal) at $37.6 billion. However, in 2021-2022, LNG, with forecast revenue of $43.7 billion, is expected to pass coal with $42.5 billion, making it second to iron ore with $114.7 billion.
Despite this positive outlook, EnergyQuest outlines in its latest Australian LNG Monthly that the biggest threat to Australian LNG exports is not having enough gas.
The energy advisory firm states that Bayu-Undan, the field supplying Darwin LNG, is soon expected to decline but fortunately Santos is making progress with the development of the Barossa field to backfill Darwin.
However, as the report was being written (13 May), Platts was reporting that the North West Shelf (NWS) has asked Japanese utilities to defer some LNG cargoes. The deferral is said to be due to water ingress into one of the producing wells. Only eight cargoes are expected to be affected but EnergyQuest says it is a reminder of the maturity of the NWS, which is soon to move into late-life production decline.
The NWS is Australia’s second-largest LNG project. According to EnergyQuest, maintaining production depends on onshore gas plus development of additional gas fields, initially Scarborough, and perhaps followed by Browse.
On the east coast, even though GLNG is now producing 6 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa), this is well short of capacity of 8.6 Mtpa due to limited gas supply.
The ability of QCLNG to maintain its current level of production depends on development of the Arrow Energy fields, 50 per cent owned by PetroChina. Hopefully, this will not be impacted by political issues.
EnergyQuest notes the threat from China grabs the headlines but having insufficient gas to maintain exports are potentially more important.
“Over the last year too technical problems with the Gorgon plant have had a greater impact on exports than anything to do with geopolitics.”