Australia retains world’s top LNG exporter position

According to consultancy EnergyQuest, Australia will certainly retain its title as the world’s greatest exporter of liquefied natural gas in 2021, with shipments reaching new highs, but it could be dethroned as early as this year.

In its monthly market analysis released on Wednesday, EnergyQuest predicted that Australian LNG shipments would reach a record 80.9 million tonnes in 2021, up 3.7 percent from the 78 million tonnes exported in 2020.

According to EnergyQuest, Australia will likely be rated as the world’s largest LNG exporter in 2021, but it warns that both Qatar and the United States pose a danger to Australia’s status.

“The consistent increase in Australian LNG exports is a noteworthy achievement in the current environment of supply chain and shipping problems,” EnergyQuest wrote in its study.

Qatar plans to increase its existing 77 million tonne per annum LNG export capacity to 110 million tpa by 2026, well outpacing Australia’s present 88.6 million tpa capability.

However, fresh LNG growth could see the United States replace Australia as the leading producer by the end of the year, according to EnergyQuest.

According to the US Energy Information Agency, the US has 102 million tonnes of capacity that is either operational, under development, or has reached a final investment decision.

Australia’s LNG export earnings increased by 36% to A$49.1 billion (US$35.3 billion), compared to A$36.2 billion in 2020, due to increased production and record worldwide gas prices.

China has surpassed Japan as the top importer of Australian LNG, acquiring 31.6 million tonnes compared to 27.3 million tonnes purchased by Japan.

Korea remains Australia’s third-largest LNG importer, with 9.8 million tonnes expected in 2021, while Australia also shipped its first LNG cargo to Indonesia last year, a country that generally exports gas.

According to EnegyQuest, Australian LNG projects functioned at 92 percent of nameplate capacity in 2018, with only two of the country’s ten LNG projects producing less than in 2020.

This includes the Woodside Petroleum-led North West Shelf project in Western Australia, which saw output drop by 12% from 2020, and the Inpex-operated Ichthys project, which saw output drop by 8.6%.

According to EnergyQuest, Origin Energy’s Australia Pacific LNG (APLNG) and Shell’s Queensland Curtis LNG (QCLNG) projects both operated at 100 percent of nameplate capacity, while Woodside’s Pluto and Chevron’s Wheatstone LNG facilities each operated at 110 percent and 103 percent of nameplate capacity.

Despite the fact that overall production was up, EnergyQuest warned that the trend might not continue, questioning if Australia had reached its LNG peak.

The North West Shelf, the country’s largest LNG project, is likely to face continuous output declines due to the plant’s aged gas fields, while Shell’s Prelude floating LNG project continues to be beset by issues.

Despite having the biggest percentage growth of any Australian LNG project in 2021, up by 1665 percent, Australia’s offshore regulator has shut down Prelude because to safety concerns.

“The peak of Australian LNG production is projected to be around 2021,” EnergyQuest added.

“The main dangers aren’t only rising competition; they’re also natural declines in the gas fields that feed existing operations and a restricted number of new developments.”

The Santos-operated Barossa development and Woodside’s combined Scarborough gas field and Pluto Train 2 extension project were both sanctioned in 2021, with completion dates set for 2025 and 2026, respectively.

“In the best-case scenario, these two new projects will bring Australian output back up to roughly present levels,” EnergyQuest said.

“It’s improbable that they’ll take it to new heights.” To restore the NWS, Australia’s largest LNG plant, to previous levels, additional gas sources would be required.”

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