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LNG exports may not be the answer

Experts warn against high expectations for Asian marketplace

Posted: February 16, 2012 - 1:12am
Noted oil consultant Pedro van Meurs, from the Van Meurs Corporation in Nassau, Bahamas, testifies before a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Resources Committees on Tuesday in the State Capitol Building.  Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Noted oil consultant Pedro van Meurs, from the Van Meurs Corporation in Nassau, Bahamas, testifies before a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Resources Committees on Tuesday in the State Capitol Building.

With Lower 48 natural gas prices bumping along at record lows, Gov. Sean Parnell and other Alaska leaders are looking at China and other Asian markets for developing the state’s huge natural gas reserves.

He’s been urging the state’s big three holders of natural gas leases to unite with TransCanada Corp. behind a single pipeline, and has lately been suggesting it should go to tidewater to export natural gas as liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to Asian markets.

Prices at various markets there are several times higher than the Lower 48 price, which has been driven down by huge shale gas extraction made possible by new fracking technology.

But a petroleum industry consultant this week told legislators that the state shouldn’t get its hopes too high.

“It will not be so easy,” warned Pedro van Meurs, an industry consultant located in the Bahamas who has a long history in Alaska, including in advising former Gov. Frank Murkowski and others on natural gas taxation and pipeline development.

As China develops, it is becoming a huge market for natural gas, but the country is also aggressively developing its own reserves and making investments in technology and resources elsewhere, he said.

“I hear loose talk about how easy it will be to export Alaska’s gas to China,” van Meurs told state senators this week.

“I think you will bump into the Great Wall of China,” he said.

China is buying companies with experience developing shale gas, and has ample resources to buy all the companies it wants, he said.

“China is not short of money if they want to develop those resources,” he said.

At the same time, LNG projects in Australia and Russia are being developed to supply China and other Asian markets, and they don’t have to build pipelines to get to tidewater to export, he said.

Alaskans may see LNG exports to Asia when they watch Russian ice-breaking LNG tankers pass though the Bering Strait on their way to China, he said.

And an Alaskan export pipeline could take many years to go into operation.

“Don’t count on China as an export market 10 years from now,” van Meurs said.

Parnell, however, said he was still confident in China as a potential market, and disregarded van Meurs’ concerns.

“What he’s advocating is a do-nothing approach,” Parnell said.

The “Asian premium,” the higher price LNG brings across the Pacific, means that’s likely the market Alaska should be looking towards, Parnell said.

“We know were the market is,” he said.

The Chinese population is so vast, and its market so large, there will still be demand, he said.

Parnell has set a deadline of the end of March by which he wants ConocoPhillips, BP and Exxon Mobil Corp. to get together with TransCanada on a LNG export project.

Federal Pipeline Coordinator Larry Persily has been cautioning against getting hopes too high for LNG exports.

“Alaskans shouldn’t get too euphoric that LNG to Asia is the no-risk holy grail” for finally marketing Alaska’s natural gas, Persily said.

Persily said he wasn’t surprised that van Meurs was also urging caution.

“He’s not the only one saying that,” he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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