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Australia's $180 billion LNG project enters final stretch

Staff Writer |
The last massive component of Australia's $180 billion liquefied natural gas construction boom arrived, 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, Reuters reported.

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

Japan's top oil and gas explorer, Inpex Corp, 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, head of energy consultancy Mathyos Japan.

"All eyes are on Inpex to see if they can pull this off without any more budget blowouts and delays."

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

Nearby, Royal Dutch Shell's $12.6 billion 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.

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

The company expects hook-up and commissioning to take up to 12 months, meaning startup 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.

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