Is LNG the Resource Sector’s Saviour?

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Monday, July 8th, 2013
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On the eve of it debut export, Queensland’s CSG and LNG industry employs nearly 30,000 workers and is worth a total of over $60 billion in investment, leading to hopes that it could revive a new resource sector boom as iron ore and coal falter.

Queensland’s Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney said at the opening of Arrow Energy’s new Brisbane headquarters this week that the figures provide a ray of light for the state’s resources sector amidst long-standing claims by analysts that the Australian mining boom has reached its terminus.

“The three Queensland LNG plants on Curtis Island are world-firsts for converting coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas for export and at a time of global uncertainty this industry has been the driving force behind growth in our great state,” he said.

Seeney hailed the contribution of the LNG sector to Queensland’s economy and employment growth.

“The CSG/LNG industry is a crucial driver in getting the Queensland economy back on track,” he said. “This $60 billion-plus of investment is flowing throughout the state and transforming regional communities.”

“QGC and its contractors currently employ 11,600 people and since January 2010 has spent $12 billion in Australia. Of this, $9.6 billion was spent here in Queensland.”

The rapid development of Australia’s CSG/LNG industry could pick up the slack for those once-stalwart areas of the country’s resources sector which are now struggling again tepid spot prices and ailing Chinese demand, such as iron ore and coal.

Queensland’s mining sector shed more than 7,000 jobs in just the past 18 months, while data from the  Minerals Council of Australia indicates that over 24,000 mining jobs have been lost throughout the country since May 2012.

China’s slowing growth, expected to worsen as a result of efforts by Beijing to rein in the excesses of its banking system, has tarnished the allure of iron ore and coal, which have long been Australia’s key exports to the Middle Kingdom’s burgeoning economy.

The appeal of LNG is growing globally, however, as it considered the cleanest of the fossil fuels, while shale fracking methods have permitted access to vast deposits in North America.

Amid such propitious circumstances for LNG globally, the natural gas boom in Australia is expected to transform the country into an energy powerhouse. Former federal treasurer Wayne Swan said at the Committee for Economic Development in Australia (CEDA) conference in June that Australia could well become the world’s biggest LNG producer.

He said the boom in Australian LNG exports following huge capital expenditures has only just started, with production by new facilities set to commence around 2014/15, and exports expected to grow nearly 120 per cent over the next three years.

“On these forecasts, Australia should become the world’s largest LNG exporter by the end of the decade,” Swan said.

Others in the industry are far less optimistic, however, pointing to Australia’s high operating costs as a major potential impediment to the sector’s development.

“We are now 20 to 30 per cent more expensive than the United States and Canada,” said Shell Australia country chair Andrew Smith, on the topic of LNG plants.

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