Nov. 16 (UPI) -- France-based oil and gas major Total said Friday it has signed an accord with Papua New Guinea to potentially increase the country's LNG export capacity by 65 percent.
"The Papua LNG Project will encompass two LNG trains" each of 2.7 million metric tons per year "and will be developed in synergy with the existing PNG LNG project facilities," Total said in a statement.
"Total and its partners have agreed to launch the first phase of the engineering studies of this project," the company added.
The project is important for Total, as it benefits "from a favorable geographical location close to Asian markets," said Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of Total.
Pouyanne signed the accord with Peter O'Neill, prime minister of Papua New Guinea, in the framework of the Asia-Pacific cooperation group APEC meetings that started Friday in Port Moresby.
Total is the operator of the Elk and Antelope onshore fields and is the largest operator in the project known as PRL-15, with a 31.1 percent interest, alongside partners ExxonMobil, with 28.3 percent, and Oil Search, with 17.7 percent. Papua New Guinea holds the remainder.
LNG is natural gas, or methane, with some ethane content. The natural gas mix is processed at very low temperatures to turn it into a liquid state, reducing size about 600 times, so it is easier to transport. Once it reaches its destination, the LNG can be turned again into methane.
Papua New Guinea already has LNG export facilities in place with operations starting in 2014. LNG production in 2017 was 8.3 million metric tons of LNG. ExxonMobil is the leading operator of this initial project, which had a $19 billion total investment, that ships LNG "to customers in Asia."
Asian consumption of energy is led by China, one of the biggest economies in the world.
Papua New Guinea, host of the APEC meeting, welcomed as part of APEC a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who "called on the two sides to reach a consensus as soon as possible to start negotiations on a free-trade agreement".