Shell to further scale down Australian operations?

SYDNEY, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- Shell's Australian investments are in the spotlight after the company offloaded its holdings in a major gas project in Western Australia.

Shell announced Monday it is selling an 8 percent stake in the Wheatstone-Iago joint venture gas fields, and also a 6.4 percent holding in the Wheatstone gas project to Kuwait's Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co. for $1.3 billion.


"Shell will remain a major player in Australia's energy industry. However, we are refocusing our investment to where we can add the most value with Shell's capital and technology," said Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden, in a statement announcing the Wheatstone sale.

"We are making hard choices in our worldwide portfolio to improve Shell's capital efficiency."

The move follows Shell's announcement of earnings Friday for the quarter that ended Dec. 31 of $2.9 billion, almost $1 billion less than market expectations.

Other Shell assets up for sale in Australia, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, include Shell's refining business, with the focus on its refinery in Geelong as well as its remaining 23.2 percent stake in Woodside Petroleum, worth about $7.4 billion.

Shell's exit from Wheatstone will allow the company to focus on its other larger Australian development projects, such as its Prelude floating liquefied natural gas project, the 25 percent-owned Gorgon LNG development, the Browse gasfield and its Arrow Energy coal-seam gas joint venture, which is half-owned by PetroChina.


But Arrow is expected to cut hundreds of jobs amid mounting speculation the project will also be affected by Shell's efforts to control capital spending, the Herald reported Tuesday.

The Herald report said Arrow confirmed it had carried out "a review of staffing levels as it manages costs" and it "will continue to assess development options, including collaboration opportunities, as it looks to develop significant gas reserves."

Invast chief markets analyst Peter Esho told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Shell's Wheatstone announcement is not likely to affect current long-term projects under way in Australia.

"I think Australia has suffered from being a high cost place of doing business, and we've seen some short term moves, but I think most of the large investments in Australia are long term or strategic and Shell's just looking at realigning its portfolio," Esho said.

While Australia has been slated to overtake Qatar as the worlds' biggest LNG exporter by 2030, Australia's LNG sector has been plagued by rising labor costs, infrastructure bottlenecks and the strong Australian dollar.

Energy Quest's Graeme Bethune said Shell's announcement should not have broader implications for Australia's gas industry.

"What Shell would say is that they have actually got a huge investment in Australia and they've got a great big investment in other countries as well," he told ABC. "So I'd see it more as a portfolio rationalization rather than a major retreat in any way."


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