Qatar Keeps Partners Guessing Into 2022

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Qatar remains committed to further North Field expansion beyond the 126 million tons per year now targeted — moving ahead while other major projects are being deferred — but partner selection for Phase 1 has slipped into 2022, Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi revealed this week.

State-owned Qatar Petroleum (QP) had said it would choose partners for the 32 million ton/yr first phase by the end of 2021, with several sources anticipating a first award by September. Selection of investors to take up to 30% of what had been the most eagerly awaited project awards of 2021 will now happen “early next year,” al-Kaabi said on the sidelines of the Gastech conference in Dubai.

The competition has attracted some of the biggest names in the business: Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, TotalEnergies, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Eni are all shortlisted for Phase 1. QP is also in talks over a stake with key Asian buyers. Al-Kaabi said offers had been received for double the amount available.

A final investment decision on the 16 million ton/yr second phase should come in the first quarter of 2022, al-Kaabi said. Along with the 16 million ton/yr Golden Pass project in the US, QP will be contributing “64 million tons/yr that will be coming to the market between 2025 and 2027, which is 15% of the current production of the world,” he said. And Doha is still looking to grow beyond 126 million tons/yr. “Stay tuned! Whenever I am ready, we will talk about it.”

Key carbon mitigation projects for what is being touted as the world’s greenest LNG project — including use of solar power and a major carbon sequestration initiative — are also progressing well. “By 2030, we should be injecting around 9 million tons of CO2 per [year],” al-Kaabi said.

Qatar's energy czar also talked up the Exxon-led Barzan gas project, saying it should hit full capacity of 1.4 billion cubic feet per day early next year. Start-up of Barzan, whose gas is earmarked for domestic use, was originally targeted for 2014. But pipeline corrosion problems meant first gas did not start flowing until April 2020.

The mere appearance of al-Kaabi in Dubai is noteworthy and reflects a thaw in relations after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates lifted their three-year blockade against Doha in January. Theoretically, another route to export expansion would be to boost capacity of the 2 Bcf/d Dolphin pipeline to the UAE. Al-Kaabi declined to comment on the idea. Right now, residual mistrust from the blockade makes expansion look improbable. But the region’s political landscape has changed dramatically in recent years and nothing can be ruled out.

Net-Zero Bashing

Qatar is moving to hoist capacity from 77 million tons/yr despite long-term questions over the role of gas in the energy transition. Along with other industry leaders, al-Kaabi unleashed a barrage of criticism against advocates of a fast-track transition, blaming current high gas and LNG prices on lack of investment. “The euphoria around the energy transition is forcing companies not to invest in gas and oil projects,” he said, arguing that prices could rise even more with the onset of winter. “There is huge demand. Unfortunately, we cannot cater for everybody. ... At the end of the day the consumer will have to pay the price.”

With around 700 climate legal cases under way, the industry risks not getting its voice heard ahead of the key COP26 conference in Glasgow in November, Opec Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo warned. “We are losing [the narrative]. The civil society, the climate activists have taken over the space.”

QP will not take advantage of high prices to try to renegotiate contracts. “Whatever, we commit to, we don’t change,” al-Kaabi said. “We don’t want $2 per million Btu and we don’t want $20/MMBtu.” He declined to give a target, simply stating that prices have to be both affordable and high enough to encourage investment.

Malaysian producer Petronas sees $7-$8/MMBtu as the sweet spot, CEO Tengku Muhammad Taufik told delegates. All bemoan a lack of policy clarity. “It might sound simplistic," Taufik said, "but policy cohesion and consistency across geographies is probably the most important thing” for industry stakeholders.

Gas Processing and Gathering, Offshore Oil and Gas, Low-Carbon Policy
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