PetroChina went on a multi-billion dollar natural gas buying spree Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, picking up shares in operations in both Canada and Australia.
In Canada, Encana, one of the partners in the Kitimat LNG project, signed a joint venture arrangement with Phoenix Duvernay Gas, a wholly owned subsidiary of PetroChina, to explore and develop Encana’s extensive undeveloped Duvernay naturgal gas holdings in west-central Alberta. According to an Encana news release, Phoenix will gain a non-controlling 49.9 per cent interest in Encana’s approximately 445,000 acres in the Duvernay play for total consideration of C$2.18 billion.
Hours earlier, PetroChina agreed to pay $1.63 billion for BHP Billiton’s 10 per cent share for an Australian LNG development, known as Browse, that like the KM LNG project in Kitimat had been delayed by the uncertainty in the LNG market. The other partners in the Browse are Woodside Petroleum, Chevron Corporation, Royal Dutch Shell and BP.
Encana says the PetroChina/Phoenix investment is significant for the Duvernay, which Encana describes as a “liquids rich play” with potential for natural gas, butane and oi development.
THE Encana release quotes Randy Eresman, Encana President & CEO. “A transaction of this magnitude keeps us on track to create a more diversified commodity portfolio and maintain our balance sheet strength. It is a strong endorsement of Encana’s position as a reliable long term partner.”
The release also quotes Zhiming Li, Phoenix’s President & Chief Executive Officer, as saying The Duvernay project will combine Phoenix’s integrated upstream and downstream capabilities and financial resources with Encana’s proven resource play hub expertise. This joint venture will build a foundation for the successful development of the Duvernay play and help to diversify our business portfolio. Encana is our ideal long term partner for the development of our future natural gas business.”
The company goes on to say:
Having entered into several joint venture transactions in 2012, these types of arrangements have become an important part of Encana’s business model. Joint ventures help the Company to achieve a highly efficient deployment of capital throughout its vast exploration and development asset base as Encana transitions to a more diversified portfolio of commodities.
Significantly, the Encana release, while talking about LNG development and export, it makes no mention of the Kitimat KM LNG project, instead looking south to Louisiana.
These relationships have the potential to increase natural gas demand as a number of Encana’s partners are actively exploring opportunities to export liquefied natural gas (LNG), while some are industrial consumers looking to transition to natural gas as fuel for their operations. An example is a recent agreement with Nucor Energy Holdings (Nucor) which is designed to support Nucor’s increased use of natural gas for its facilities, such as its direct reduced iron facility currently under construction in Convent, Louisiana.
Reports say PetroChina paid a premium price for the Australian Browse natural gas project, anticipating that if it comes on stream, as planned in 2018, the current glut in the natural gas market will have eased and once again LNG will be a seller’s market.
The Browse project at James Price Point on the north-western coast of Australia is facing similar opposition to projects in British Columbia, including some of the site’s aboriginal landowners and from some environmental groups.
The opposition to the Australian Browse project, according to reports, reflects a split in the local aboriginal community. While Wikipedia says that 60 per cent of the local aboriginal people voted in favour of the project, there is also fierce opposition, according to the Australian Mining Journal, which reported in 2009:
[A] number of Traditional Owners, as part of the Save The Kimberley organisation, issued a statement which said there is not unanimous support for this site.
In a signed declaration, Traditional Owners have affirmed that they do not support the imposition of an industrial site on their country and will legally challenge the authenticity of any agreements entered into by the Kimberley Land Council supporting the proposal.
The statement said that “…many local Indigenous people are disgusted by the apparent abandonment of the established process put in place by the previous State government. Concerns include the threats made earlier in the year by the Premier regarding compulsory acquisition of land and the pre-empting of the Joint State and Commonwealth environmental and cultural assessment process via announcements by Woodside and the Premier.”
A company called Woodside Petroleum, which leads the LNG venture wants to build the “greenfield” onshore terminal but is facing competition from Shell’s proposed offshore floating LNG “given the land access challenges and soaring development costs in Australia,” even though Shell also has a stake in the Browse project.
The Encana PetroChina deal comes a week after the Conservative government approved the takeover of Nexen by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and the take over by the Malaysian state oil company Petronas of Progress Energy. Petronas and Progress Energy have announced plans for an LNG export facilty at Lelu Island, opposite Port Edward, near Prince
Encana spokesman Jay Averill told the Globe and Mail the Duvernay deal will not need approval from Investment Canada because PetroChina will only gain a 49.9-per-cent, non-controlling share of the specific Encana assets.
In Australia, in October, CNOOC bought a stake in Queensland Curtis LNG from British energy company BG. BG, in partnership with Spectra Energy has also announced plans for an LNG facility at Prince Rupert
PetroChina pays premium for Browse stake