Australian government’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has revised the forecast for Australian liquefied natural gas earnings.
The Resources and Energy Quarterly data shows that the LNG export earnings have been revised up from the March 2019 quarterly report, and are now expected to be $1.1 billion higher in 2019-20, reflecting an upwards revision to the oil price forecast, and the downward revision to the AUD/USD exchange rate assumption.
An upward revision to prices has offset the impact of a downward revision to export volumes. ConocoPhillips confirmed in June that it expected the Darwin LNG plant to shut down for 1-2 years, starting between 2021 and 2023, when gas from the Bayu-Undan field is exhausted.
While falling output at Darwin LNG was factored into the outlook for the March Resources and Energy Quarterly, production is now expected to decline at a faster rate.
The report shows that Australia exported an estimated $50 billion of LNG in 2018–19, up from $31 billion in 2017–18. Higher export earnings have been driven by the recovery in oil prices (relative to 2017–18), and the ramp-up of LNG exports, particularly from the Wheatstone and Ichthys LNG projects.
Australia and Qatar continued to jostle for the title of the world’s largest LNG exporter over the first five months of 2019. Australia took the lead in April as Qatar’s exports dipped due to maintenance before Qatar edged back past Australia in May.
The value of Australia’s LNG exports is forecast to increase to $54 billion in 2019–20, driven by the ramp-up in export volumes from Prelude and Ichthys. Shell shipped the first LNG cargo from its Prelude project on June 11, and production is expected to ramp up during 2019–20. Train 2 at Ichthys is expected to come online during 2019.
In 2020–21, the value of Australia’s LNG exports is expected to fall back to $50 billion, as oil-linked contract prices (at which most Australian LNG is sold) edge down and the exchange rate appreciates. LNG export volumes are expected to remain broadly stable in 2020–21.
Australia is forecast to edge past Qatar as the world’s largest LNG exporter (on an annual basis) when exports reach 78 million tonnes in 2019, and extend its lead in 2020 as exports climb to 81 million tonnes.
However, the narrow difference between the projected exports of the two nations means that Australia overtaking Qatar is not a certainty. Indeed, that margin is likely to be particularly narrow in 2019.
During the mid-2020s, Australia is expected to be surpassed as the world’s largest LNG exporter by both Qatar and the US, as new projects in both countries come online.