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LNG development may hinge on pricing agreements

Projects like Pacific NorthWest LNG’s proposed terminal on Lelu Island may hinge on Asian customers and Canadian suppliers agreeing on which pricing structure is best. - File photo
Projects like Pacific NorthWest LNG’s proposed terminal on Lelu Island may hinge on Asian customers and Canadian suppliers agreeing on which pricing structure is best.
— image credit: File photo

Western Canada is going to have to overcome a number of challenges to have a successful liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry, states the International Gas Union (IGU).

In the 2013 World LNG Report the IGU, which represents over 120 members in 81 countries, points to significant commercial and environmental risks that need to be addressed. One challenge, which the report claims to be quite significant, is the difference in pricing. LNG future contract price is set by a system called Henry Hub (HH), named after a distribution point on the gas pipeline in Louisiana, but the IGU said that is not what Canadian companies are wanting to charge.

"Project costs in Canada far exceed counterpart projects in the United States where the natural gas market is much more liquid. Moreover, the distance between the proposed export facilities and the North American gas pipeline grid is large, and connections are small in both capacity and number. Exporting Henry Hub-linked LNG is risky because it forces sellers to produce no matter what happens to Henry Hub," the report explains.

"These factors are exacerbated by the tension between Asian buyers' insistence on Henry Hub pricing and the sellers' preference for oil-linked prices –a difference that has so far been hard to reconcile ... despite numerous marketing leads for Western Canada's slate of projects, there are currently no finalized agreements with Asia Pacific buyers."

Greg Kist, president of Pacific NorthWest LNG, said pricing discussions are the subject of confidential negotiations, but acknowledged it is a consideration.

"Historically, LNG prices have been linked to world oil prices but with the growing potential for North American natural gas to be shipped to LNG importing countries, the interest has grown on the part of buyers to have exposure to North American natural gas prices ... today, natural gas prices in North America remain at relatively lower levels as compared to world oil prices because of the growth in natural gas supply. Just on the face of it, North American natural gas prices are approximately US$3.50/mmbtu [British thermal unit] as compared to approximately $15.00/mmbtu for natural gas in Japan. You must, however, factor in the cost of pipelines, liquefaction and shipping in order to assess the net difference between the two pricing points," he said.

The BG Group said Henry Hub pricing is a subject of discussion with potential clients.

"We think traditional LNG projects will continue to be predominantly oil-linked. Customers will always want lower prices. But Henry-Hub source cost/indexation does not mean a low sales price. The industry costs for liquefaction, shipping and regasification, which are in addition to the cost of sourcing the gas itself, dictate the cost of LNG delivered to any particular point ... if we are seeing the introduction of some HH linked volumes into pricing then oil indexation is, by definition, losing market share. But this is not the start of a trend to transfer all LNG prices onto HH related pricing. A balance will be reached, with oil indexation still likely to account for the majority of LNG volumes," said a spokesperson for the company.

“Although some customers have expressed an interest in adding some Henry-Hub priced volumes into their portfolios we believe that this is based on a desire to diversify their price exposure rather than transfer their prices fully onto a HH basis. This means there will likely be a natural limit to the amount of HH linked volumes they want in their portfolios ... LNG is an expensive commodity and the price represents the costs of production just as much as it does the historical indexation.”

The most touched upon risk to the industry in the report is the distance between the export point and the gas supply.

“Based on announced costs, projects in Western Canada face inexpensive liquefaction costs (~$1,000 /ton) relative to greenfield projects in Australia. However, a major factor affecting Western Canadian projects is the need for a long, expensive pipeline to bring gas from eastern British Columbia to the coast ... as of May 2013, four projects have proposed building approximately 500 mile pipelines with costs of between $1,000 per million metric cubic feet per day (mmcf/d) to $3,000 per mmcf/d, which will significantly increase total project costs,” reads the report, which does point to opposition to pipelines in the region.

“There has been significant local backlash to Enbridge’s proposed oil pipeline, which would connect Alberta’s oil sands to an export terminal at Kitimat, traversing a similar route as many of the proposed. However, local groups (including First Nations) have so far put up little opposition to gas facilities, partly due to the differing scale of negative effects of an oil spill versus a gas leak.”

Despite the challenges, the report does note that Canada’s political climate is right for the industry to grow.

“Liquefaction projects in Western Canada face a smaller range of political risks than those in the Lower 48, as Canada is much more accustomed to energy exports on a large scale ... although projects that have not yet received export licenses still face the risk of delay or a potential limit being placed on the number of licenses granted, these risks are quite small,” reads the report.

Regardless of the report, both Pacific NorthWest LNG and the BG Group see a bright future for LNG in western Canada.

“Western Canadian LNG projects will have an advantage in terms of distance and time to key LNG markets in Asia. In terms of nautical miles, Prince Rupert to Tokyo is approximately the same distance, in nautical miles, as it is from Australia — the fastest growing LNG producer,” said Kist

“Prince Rupert is one of four new LNG supply projects that BG Group is progressing to help meet growing global demand for natural gas. With Prince Rupert, we have an attractive site (in a designated industrial zone) for a LNG plant and an agreement with Spectra, a major pipeline operator, for them to build and fund the pipeline ... Prince Rupert offers another option for a significant LNG project later in the decade, playing to our inherent skills in putting together complex projects and LNG chains,” said the BG spokesperson.

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