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Jordan Cove LNG Project 'Long-Term Option' For Veresen, CEO Says

The stalled multi-billion-dollar Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal and connecting 232-mile Pacific Connector transmission pipeline in Oregon is still a long-term option for Calgary-based Veresen Inc., but it won't move ahead unless the proposed 1 Bcf/d capacity facility is fully contracted, the CEO said Wednesday during an earnings conference call.

The company now envisions a final investment decision in 2019, with the terminal and pipeline beginning service in 2024.

While the project still faces a soft, oversupplied global market, CEO Don Althoff assured analysts that Veresen won't "chase over the cliff" in pursuit of the more than a decade-old LNG project at a site along the south-central Oregon coast. However, prospects both politically and economically have changed for the better, Althoff said, noting a recent visit with FERC.

"Having visited Washington, DC, twice in the past two weeks since our discussions with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last December, the attitude on Capitol Hill toward projects of this nature has shifted," Althoff said.

He said Jordan Cove's contributions to jobs and infrastructure development are top priority for the new Trump administration, and the $7.5 billion LNG and pipeline project is still "a long-term option for Veresen."

WithFERC pre-filing status, Jordan Cove plans to re-file its application in the second half of this year. Althoff said one of the drawbacks FERC focused in rejecting the previous application was the "lack of commercial control over Pacific Connector Pipeline to enter into contracts to demonstrate the project's economic need, and we now have full commercial control over the terminal and pipeline. Overall, we now believe Jordan Cove is in a position to receive a FERC permit within a reasonable time frame that will not impede the project."

This year's focus will continue to be on obtaining the additional offtake agreements needed to eventually move ahead, Althoff said. "We will not build the project without effectively selling out the plant." During the past year, the discussions with potential buyers and offtake participants have been "very encouraging," he said.

"We have seen a marked improvement in both the commercial and the regulatory environments surrounding Jordan Cove, but at the same time we need the buyers to step up for us to continue to advance the project."

Prior the making a final decision, Veresen likely will seek at least one partner to de-risk the project for Veresen shareholders, Althoff said. "The option of bringing in someone earlier is probably more attractive now than it has been in the past."

He was optimistic about the ongoing discussions with potential LNG buyers and with what Veresen has been able to do in the past year to slash the overall costs of the project in the wake of last year's FERC rejection.

"We've optimized the design, including getting rid of the power plant and it improved the efficiency and shrunk the footprint," he said. "That will be viewed as very positive by FERC because it worries about the footprint and emissions, and both of those have gone down." He sees Jordan Cove as having a "clean” final environmental impact statement and being on "good footing with FERC."

Concerning potential offtakers, Althoff said "the tone is getting much better" since the "way oversupplied LNG market" last year. There have been Asian LNG prices this winter in the $9-10/MMBtu range, and  "there are much stronger demand-side discussions" these days. He wouldn't speculate on when Veresen would sign its next supply agreement, but called the ongoing commercial discussions "big and complex."

Veresen reported adjusted net income in 4Q2016 of $13 million (4 cents/share), compared with $10 million (3 cents) in 4Q2015. For 2016, adjusted net income was $59 million (19 cents), compared with $57 million (19 cents) in 2015.

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