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Australia's Woodside calls for new industry thinking

Company last month put a hold on a $50 million liquefied natural gas facility, citing the weak market.

By
Daniel J. Graeber
Despite a strong base of traditional customers, Australian energy company Woodside Petroleum calls for patient approach during market downturn. Photo courtesy of Woodside Petroleum.
Despite a strong base of traditional customers, Australian energy company Woodside Petroleum calls for patient approach during market downturn. Photo courtesy of Woodside Petroleum.

PERTH, Australia, April 12 (UPI) -- The head of one of the largest players in the Australian liquefied natural gas business said the industry as a whole needs to adapt to a new market environment.

Woodside Petroleum, the country's largest independent oil and gas company, in February warned that, with crude oil prices down roughly 40 percent for 2015, its financial position was under threat. Net income of around $26 million last year was down roughly 90 percent from the $2.4 billion recorded in 2014.

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Crude oil prices are under pressure because weak global economic growth means demand is overshadowed by strong production levels. Woodside said it produced about 92 million barrels of product last year, a decline of 3 percent from 2014. Its target level for 2016 is relatively stable. Proved plus probable reserves, meanwhile, climbed more than 10 percent to around 1.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

Nevertheless, the company said the emerging LNG market presents challenges and opportunities to its growing gas portfolio. Markets are expanding, but so too is the competition.

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CEO Peter Coleman told delegates at an energy conference in Perth that a new way of thinking was needed in the weakened market. Traditional customers, like East Asian economies that rely heavily on imports, will continue to make investments, though innovation may be necessary for the future.

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"I expect that the LNG projects of the future will be smarter, greener but not necessarily bigger," he said. "I am not ruling out one off projects worth many billions of dollars but they will certainly need to lead to robust returns for investors."

Woodside said last month that, even with front-end engineering and design work completed, weak economic and market conditions meant it was necessary to put a hold on the $50 billion Browse LNG facility.

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Coleman said discipline was needed in the era of lower crude oil prices, with patience trumping short-term growth ambitions.

"In today's low oil price environment, a sensible approach is to phase a development -- take staged decisions and then build out," he said. "Too often we've tried to do too much, driven by an insatiable desire to grow."

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