Canada sees Petronas making its US$27 Billion LNG decision by April

Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. will be ready to decide whether to proceed with a proposed US$27 billion liquefied natural gas plant on Canada’s Pacific Coast by April, according to Rich Coleman, British Columbia’s minister of natural gas development.

The state-owned Malaysian energy company, which won conditional Canadian government approval in September after more than three years of regulatory review, is in the process of reassessing the project’s costs, including those of steel, pipes and other inputs, he said.

“They need to go out and re-price the project,” Coleman said in an interview in Vancouver. “They hope to have that done in three to six months. Once they’ve done that, they’ll go back to the partners and decide whether to make a final investment decision.”

Canada relies on the U.S. to buy almost all of its energy exports, forcing it to sell at a discount to international benchmark prices. British Columbia is positioning itself as a gateway for Asian exports with its vast reserves and is among North America’s closest ports to the region. Petronas is reviewing the project and working to lower capital costs, it said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“Before the project can proceed to a positive final investment decision, we need to ensure the project is competitive with similar projects around the world,” the Malaysian explorer said.

Majority owner

Petronas is the majority owner of the Pacific Northwest LNG project, which could produce as much as 19.2 million tons a year of the fuel, or about 8 per cent of last year’s global trade. Its partners are China Petrochemical Corp., Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., Indian Oil Corp. and Brunei National Petroleum Co.

A Japex spokesman, who declined to be named citing internal policy, said there is no change to the company’s plans regarding the Pacific Northwest LNG project. An Indian Oil spokesman was unable to comment immediately, while a Beijing-based spokesman for Sinopec said the company has no comment on the matter. Petroleum Brunei could not be reached for comment.

Coleman, who met with Petronas executives last month in Kuala Lumpur, said those partners remain on board as buyers. “There was no indication that any of the partners aren’t still in,” he said. “They have a really strong focus on getting it to be financially viable.”

190 conditions

The Sept. 27 approval from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government came with about 190 conditions, including a cap on carbon-gas emissions. None of those were “overly surprising” to Petronas or its partners and are unlikely to be a major obstacle, Coleman said.

If Petronas moves ahead with the project, it would be the first new onshore greenfield project of that scale since December 2013, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd.

Market forces haven’t been working in the project’s favor. Since Petronas first submitted the project for environmental approval in 2013, spot prices for the fuel have fallen by nearly 60 per cent as a host of new projects have boosted supply faster than demand has grown. Global supply capacity is expected to grow by almost half through 2020, at which point it will exceed demand by 29 per cent, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Those forces have stymied more than 20 export proposals in the Canadian province. Of those, just one small one has moved ahead — a $1.6 billion project backed by Indonesian billionaire Sukanto Tanoto’s RGE Group that will have a total capacity of about 2.1 million metric tons per year.

Band together

Canada’s LNG developers will probably band together and merge projects — like producers in Papua New Guinea are trying to do — to reduce costs rather than building expensive, individual export terminals, Bob Fryklund, IHS Markit Ltd.’s chief upstream strategist, said last month.

“I do think, given some of the experiences globally, that they are having some of those conversations,” Coleman said when asked about that possibility. Merging terminals wouldn’t trigger a new environmental assessment, he said.

With only a few, high-quality projects likely to be sanctioned amid challenging market conditions, British Columbia’s massive resources relative to domestic demand and shorter shipping times to Asia compared with the U.S. Gulf Coast work in its favor, according to KPMG.

“I remain optimistic that there will be more than one LNG project that will come forward,” Coleman said. “They’re all saying they want to get there.”

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