How Santos lied to Australia on gas

There is a very important piece today at The Australian on gas:

As Santos worked toward approving its company-transforming Gladstone LNG project at the start of this decade, managing ­director David Knox made the sensible statement that he would approve one LNG train, capable of exporting the equivalent of half the east coast’s gas demand, rather than two because the venture did not yet have enough gas for the second.

“You’ve got to be absolutely confident when you sanction trains that you’ve got the full gas supply to meet your contractual obligations that you’ve signed out with the buyers,” Mr Knox told ­investors in August 2010 when asked why the plan was to sanction just one train first up.

“In order to do it (approve the second train) we need to have ­absolute confidence ourselves that we’ve got all the molecules in order to fill that second train.”

But in the months ahead, things changed. In January, 2011, the Peter Coates-chaired Santos board approved a $US16 billion plan to go ahead with two LNG trains from the beginning….as a result of the decision and a series of other factors, GLNG last quarter had to buy more than half the gas it exported from other parties.

…In hindsight, assumptions that gave Santos confidence it could find the gas to support two LNG trains, and which were gradually revealed to investors as the project progressed, look more like leaps of faith.

…When GLNG was approved as a two-train project, Mr Knox assuredly answered questions about gas reserves.

“We have plenty of gas,” he told investors. “We have the ­reserves we require, which is why we’ve not been participating in acquisitions in Queensland of late — we have the reserves, we’re very confident of that.”

But even then, and unbeknown to investors, Santos was planning more domestic gas purchases, from a domestic ­market where it had wrongly expected prices to stay low. This was revealed in August 2012, after the GLNG budget rose by $US2.5bn to $US18.5bn because, Santos said, of extra drilling and compression requirements.

“At the time of FID (final investment decision), there was a reasonable expectation during the early years that gas would be available in the market at the right price,” Mr Knox said. “However, large volume, long-term east coast gas supply and prices have tightened over the last 18 months, making third-party gas a relatively less attractive gas ­supply. This is what led to our ­announcement (that capital spending would increase).” For commercial reasons, Santos had not revealed the volumes of third-party gas needed to feed the ­second train.

Presentation slides reveal that by then, even with the $US2.5bn of extra spending, third-party purchases had grown from 140 terajoules a day, at FID, to 240 terajoules a day, or 20 per cent of east coast domestic demand.

Santos figured the gas it was taking out of east coast markets would be filled by accelerated production from the Cooper Basin (fuelled by the GLNG ­supply contract revenue), gas from the Narrabri coal-seam gas project in NSW and helped by the production of shale gas.

Unfortunately, shale drilling did not return hoped-for results, an oil price slump in late 2014 heavily restricted more Cooper Basin drilling and a community backlash, along with regulatory hurdles, stymied Narrabri.

Even before oil prices slumped, Santos revealed its call on domestic gas would be greater than flagged. In a June 2014 presentation slides to an analysts tour of the GLNG facility were told that third party gas would provide between 410 to 570 terajoules of gas per day, or the equivalent of up to half of total east coast domestic demand, even though it was planning to drill 200 to 300 domestic wells a year.

As a result, GLNG, had drilled 769 coal-seam gas wells as of November last year (and presumably connected fewer). This is about a quarter less than the 1000 it had planned to drill by the end of 2015.

Santos and GLNG stuffed up. They got caught up in the LNG bubble and lied to themselves as well as the nation. Time for them not everyone else to wear it.

Ban third party gas exports. Install “use it or lose it” rules and domestic reservation: gas and electricity problems solved short term and long.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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  1. I like DomGas, it works. But it must be contractually agreed (conditional) prior to approval and commencement of projects.

    Disagree with the banning of third party exports. Damaging to the industry, our international reputation as a reliable sensible investment destination (and provider of contracted commodity exports). Compensation etc would be substantial and as suggested by many, establishing LNG import facilities at under $150m a pop less expensive solution not only in $ but in reputational damage.

    States will have to permit access to new reserves and accept that in many cases these reserves will be more expensive to exploit with commensurate flow thru costs.

    Malcolm in a Muddle caused some consternation last week when he breathlessly announced the very expensive to taxpayers deal with KingNick re various “solutions” to SAs energy woes: Australia may exercise it rights over exports…

    Our descent into a Banana Republic continued by a Liberal Government. Shameful.

    • Rubbish. They stuffed this up and should wear it. We’re talking about 3.65 of exports here. The customers don’t even want the gas. The risk here is to the sovereign not sovereign risk.

      There should be NO compensation.

      • Compensation mandatory. Government intervention to circumvent contractual agreements requires compensation. All agreements legal and in good faith, sanctioned and approved by Government under legal and regulatory framework in existence at time of execution.

        Add to that the complexity and number of contracts/agreements in place between all participants involved – huge. Daniel Andrews might be able to write off a billion or so exiting a contract to build a road. But this messing with the gas play, domestic and global, an order of magnitude greater.

      • Not so. Contracts aren’t property rights so don’t need to be compensated for if the law changes by a government exercising it’s ordinary powers.

        And sovereign risk is a tenuous thing for the likes of Santos etc to claim when someone is taking advantage of a known regulatory failure.

      • Downstream.

        Sort of. Numerous additional considerations. Conflicts of this kind are routinely settled via the legal process. Well established in modern democracies which adhere to rule of law generally prefer not to act an arbitrary manner echoing that of some tin pot dictatorship.

        The dislocation would be enormous and threaten all future investment in the resources space.

        No sensible government would counternance it.

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        This whole debacle ws birthed when Martin Ferguson was the presiding minster.
        He should share in the blame , being well and truly captured by the industry, bloody traitor.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      Our international reputation now is “SUCKERS”. Every other gas exporter in the world has a gas reservation policy. What is the point of attracting international investment if the end result only makes its citizens poorer?

    • Wait, wait, wait… So the gas cartel has sold future contracts for more gas than the TOTAL current gas output. And they want Australia to bail them out???

      No, the answer is not to import LPG (while the gas cartel takes a clip on the way out and in).

      The answer is to force all gas to be sold locally first at a price that is (at maximum) Japan price minus liquidification and transport costs. Any surplus can be sold oversees.

    • Sure. And I bet a lot of houses will keep getting heat by burning gas instead of running the air con in reverse mode.

      Running the air con in reverse mode has been a cheaper way to get heat for a few years now – but there is no government campaign to push that message.