Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Shell and Inpex race in $180bn Australian LNG project

Whichever starts first will pump gas away from the other's field as the two straddle the same reservoirs

Ipex's Ichthys Venturer arrives Australian waters. Courtesy INPEX Australia
Ipex's Ichthys Venturer arrives Australian waters. Courtesy INPEX Australia

The last massive component of Australia's US$180 billion liquefied natural gas construction boom arrived on Monday, stepping up a race between Anglo-Dutch giant Shell and Japan's Inpex to start chilling gas for export in 2018.


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Company reputations are at stake, as well as first access to overlapping gas fields and Australia leapfrogging Qatar as the world's largest exporter of LNG.

The Ichthys Venturer, a floating production, storage and offloading facility, travelled 5,600km from a South Korean shipyard and will be moored 220km off Western Australia to handle condensate from the Ichthys field.

Japan's top oil and gas explorer, Inpex, is running Ichthys, both the country's biggest overseas investment and first LNG megaproject.

"This project is a huge source of pride for Japan and an important addition to ... energy supplies," said Tom O'Sullivan, the head of energy consultancy Mathyos Japan.

"All eyes are on Inpex to see if they can pull this off without any more budget blow-outs and delays," he said.

First production, due by March 2018, will be more than a year behind target. Costs have ballooned more than 10 per cent to $37bn since the project's approval in 2012.

Nearby, Royal Dutch Shell's $12.6bn Prelude project - the world's largest floating LNG (FLNG) facility - is also behind schedule. Shell lost out on becoming the first producer of FLNG when Malaysia's Petronas started up a smaller FLNG facility this year.


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Shell's facility, six times the size of the biggest aircraft carriers, with a deck longer than four football fields, arrived last month.

Shell expects hook-up and commissioning to take up to 12 months, meaning start-up between April and July 2018.

Whichever project starts first will pump gas away from the other's field as the two straddle the same reservoirs. The race means more to Prelude than Ichthys, as Prelude is smaller, said Wood Mackenzie analyst Saul Kavonic.

Inpex also has an each-way bet: It owns 17.5 per cent of Prelude as well as 62.2 per cent of Ichthys.

Stumbles and contract disputes are normal for megaprojects. Chevron had numerous problems with its US$54 billion Gorgon project in Western Australia when it started in 2016.

Ichthys's contractors are mired in claims from two major engineering firms, although Inpex has said those disputes will not slow the project.

Prelude and Ichthys also might see delays during the tropical cyclone season from November through April.

Wood Mackenzie expects a relatively long commissioning for Prelude due to its large scale and new technology, but sees Shell's long experience on LNG projects as an advantage.

"Experience really matters during the commissioning process, which is one of the most challenging parts," Mr Kavonic said.

Inpex and Shell declined interview requests for this story.

Updated: August 14, 2017 03:16 PM