Can Australia become the world's leading LNG exporter?

When it comes to export earnings, mineral commodities - chiefly iron ore and coal - hog the nation's attention.But as hands are wrung over the fate of the mining boom, an unprecedented level of investment is being directed to a different commodity, natural gas.

The money is going into liquefied natural gas, a transportable form of energy created by chilling gas until it turns into a much smaller volume of liquid that can be stored on a ship and later reheated to return it to its gaseous form.

The LNG industry claims to be Australia's fastest growing export sector.Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane shares the rosy outlook."Australia will shortly become the second largest - or optimistically, the largest - exporter of LNG and that is nothing short of amazing," Mr Macfarlane said during the Australian National Conference on Resource and Energy on October 3.

Is that a reasonable prediction? Mr Macfarlane's office told ABC Fact Check he based his comments on advice from the Department of Industry and research by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, the national energy forecaster.

The bureau says Australia will produce 83.0 million tonnes of LNG by 2017.

How does this compare with the rest of the world?Global leadersAccording to statistics from the International Energy Agency, whose 28 member countries from the developed world are large users of energy, Australia is currently the third largest LNG producer in the world, behind Qatar and Malaysia.

The agency says Australia has the capacity to produce 33 billion cubic metres of LNG a year.

In tonnes, the measurement used commonly in Australia, that converts to 24.4 million tonnes.

Expanding productionWhile Australia is in third place, the agency says Australia has more new LNG plants under construction than any other country.On completion, the new projects will add a further 61.4 million tonnes of LNG capacity, bringing Australia's total to 85.8 million tonnes.

These are due to be completed by June 2018.

Not many other LNG exporting countries have new projects underway, according to the agency.

The closest is the United States, constructing plants capable of producing 17.8 million tonnes.When plants under construction are added to current capacity, Australia will lead the way with 85.8 million tonnes.

Qatar, the current leader in LNG exports, will be next at 77.7 million tonnes and Indonesia third at 36.3 million tonnes.

New competitionIndustry forecasters support Mr Macfarlane's prediction, but it will only be substantiated if there is no new competition on the LNG export scene.

While Australia has the largest number of projects under construction at the moment, many countries, particularly the US, have plans to start building new LNG plants.If these plants are approved, financed, and built, the US will have 216.8 million tonnes of LNG capacity.

Australia also has plants planned but not yet started, which would take its capacity to 162.8 million tonnes followed by Qatar, if its planned plants go ahead, at 89.5 million tonnes.

Using this measure, Australia will rank second.

The International Energy Agency has qualified that while US has many plans to increase its LNG capacity, they need to go through a lengthy process of approval.

So whether the US is able to move ahead is uncertain at this stage.Further, on October 6, large Malaysian energy company Petronas decided to to commence a new LNG investment in Canada worth about $36 billion.

This will push Malaysia ahead in the LNG export race.

Even with new competition, Australia can still lead the world in LNG exports as long as it can keep a tight control on costs, especially for labour.

Cost blowouts have caused Australian LNG projects to be cancelled in recent years.

The high Australian dollar can also hamper Australia's export abilities.

While the dollar is on its way down, if it goes back up, it will affect demand for Australia's LNG.

The verdictMr Macfarlane's prediction that Australia will be a leading exporter of LNG is soundly based on official research.

But its fulfilment could be undermined by factors such as planned expansion in the US and Canada, or domestic issues such as increasing labour costs.

Mr Macfarlane's claim is a fair bet.

SourcesThe Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, "What is natural gas?"The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, "Australia's LNG opportunities and challenges"Australian National Conference on Resources and Energy, 2013Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, Resources and Energy Quarterly, September 2013British Petroleum, conversion tableInternational Energy Agency, Medium Term Gas Market Report, 2013 (paid report)Prime Minister's Office of Malaysia, Bernama news, "Petronas, Largest FDI investor in Canada says PM", October 6Reserve Bank of Australia, Statement by Glenn Stevens, Governor: Monetary Policy Decision, October 2013The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, "What is liquefied natural gas (LNG)?"The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, "Benefits of LND"

Market Data

  • Currencies
    Currencies
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    0.9266-0.0021-0.23%
    AUDUSD=X
    0.5519-0.0016-0.29%
    AUDGBP=X
    0.6702-0.0019-0.28%
    AUDEUR=X
  • Commodities
    Commodities
    NamePriceChange% Chg