Will ExxonMobil be InterOil's dealmaker?

WITH oil prices showing some downside risks and LNG export prices anticipated to weaken after around 2017, InterOil’s Elk and Antelope gas fields in Gulf Province could be running out of world-class operators that might be candidates to operate PNG’s second LNG venture. By Wantok*

  • 24 April 2013
  • 08:00
  • News

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The way the cards appear to be falling, InterOil is likely to end up with ExxonMobil as its most likely development partner.

There has been no confirmation of discussions between these two parties and, if they had indeed commenced, these talks are likely to have been held in the US.

Rising development costs are leaving some major project proponents in its wake, the latest being the $US50 billion Browse Basin project of Woodside Petroleum. After pushing this venture for the best part of the past decade, Woodside has announced its intention, if authorities approve the move, of firing up an LNG export facility in faraway Canada.

The US and its unconventional gas resources are all the rage these days and Woodside would like to have a slice of this action. The US government has already given approval for one LNG export venture with about half a dozen others hoping for similar treatment.

If Australia suffers from a severe problem caused by cost blowouts, this is certainly also true in PNG where ExxonMobil last year lifted production costs for the PNG LNG Project from $15.7 billion to $19 billion. Negotiations are now underway to lift project debt by $1.5 billion on top of the previous $14 billion mark.

All of this points to the likelihood that if InterOil is serious about launching its LNG venture in a reasonable time frame its best bet is to bed down a deal with ExxonMobil. Indeed its recent action in offering the PNG government a 50% stake in its total gas resource, which the government accepted, could well mean it has little other choice.

That 50% gas equity alone would be adequate for construction of a third train at the PNG LNG Project site near Port Moresby. If InterOil were to accept this as a possibility there would be adequate gas for a third and fourth train.

A US executive of ExxonMobil has recently been quoted in the media as suggesting the Port Moresby site has a capacity to house five LNG trains. If this scenario became likely the co-venturers will more than likely have to consider whether the P'nyang field, further north of Juha, could be the supplier for the fifth train.

There is little doubt, given the complicated logistics of P'nyang, that Elk and Antelope would be preferable gas supply sources for expansion of the PNG LNG Project. Another possibility would be four LNG trains at the present PNG LNG site and a separate stand-alone, possibly modular or floating, LNG facility located in Gulf Province itself.

Industry watchers now believe that following InterOil's promise to come up with a credible LNG partner last month the clock may be running against it, and a development partner and proposal could well be publicly presented in a matter of weeks.

Meantime, little has been heard of Horizon Oil's efforts to develop its Stanley gas project in Western Province, where the PNG Department of Petroleum and Energy has demanded that a unitisation agreement is made over a neighbouring lease that Stanley extends into.

Not much has also been heard on the previously publicised decision to sell down some of its PNG oil and gas holdings.

Intriguingly, while nothing has been said about these issues the company has recently been awarded new licences in Western Province, as has its Elevala-Ketu partner, Kina Petroleum Ltd, in conjunction with the newly floated Cotts Oil.

Horizon has been awarded a 50% interest in PPL 430 and 90% in PPL 372 and 373, taking its total acreage from 3900sq.km to 7900sq.km.

The dynamics of the global hydrocarbons industry is undergoing dramatic changes, particularly with the resurgence of the United States as an important oil and gas producer. And when the giants begin to play in a serious fashion we know what could happen to the ditherers in less conducive climates.

For the moment, what is clear in PNG is that the investment and development climate for hydrocarbon projects are significantly brighter than they are for their mining counterparts.

* All Wantok stories are opinion pieces.

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