CANBERRA, Australia, June 7 (UPI) -- Australia's liquefied natural gas industry is on course for a "golden age," with the sector posed to boost the country's economy by $38.5 billion by 2020, the International Energy Agency said.
IEA's "Are We Entering a Golden Age of Gas?" report unveiled Monday forecasts global use of gas to increase by more than 50 percent from 2010-35.
"We think Australia will play a crucial role in the golden age of gas. It could be a golden age for Australia's LNG industry," IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the lead author of the report, told The Australian newspaper.
By around 2020, Birol said, Australian LNG production could increase threefold.
The latest figures indicate that Australia exported $7.71 billion worth of natural gas in 2009. In 2010, it was the fourth largest LNG exporter after Qatar, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The push to develop long-term supplies of LNG in Australia has sparked more than $214 billion worth of LNG projects.
IEA says Australia's key customers would be Asian countries, with China leading the pack, followed by India.
In its high-gas scenario, IEA predicts China's natural gas demand alone to rise from about the level of Germany's in 2010 to that of the entire European Union in 2035.
"Australian gas would be directed to meet new energy demand and, especially in the coastal part of China, to replace the coal currently transported over long distances from the interior of China," Birol said.
Projects such as Western Australia's Gorgon represent the backbone of Australian LNG supply, IEA says. A joint venture between Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Shell in Australia, Gorgon has supply contracts from China and India totaling $64 billion in advance of production slated for 2014.
Chevron, Japan's Inpex and Perth's Woodside Petroleum are also close to signing multibillion-dollar LNG development deals in Australia.
Shell upstream international Executive Director Malcolm Brinded said government studies indicate there are 140 trillion cubic feet of stranded gas in Australian water yet to be developed, The Australian reports.
Over the next 10 years, Shell plans to spend $32 billion-$54 billion on Australian LNG projects, he said.
Last month, Shell announced final approval for Prelude, a colossal floating LNG plant to be built 124 miles off the northern coast of Western Australia. The first shipment of gas from the 1,601-foot-long Prelude is slated for 2017.
While Shell didn't disclose figures, the project is costing an estimated $12.6 billion.
Commenting on Shell's Prelude, Frank Harris, head of global LNG consulting at Wood Mackenzie told the Financial Times: "This is another final investment decision in Australia and adds to the debate as to whether the country will ultimately overtake Qatar as the world's biggest producer of LNG."