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Shell Selling Wheatstone LNG Stake for $1.35B

Royal Dutch Shell plc is casting off its stake in a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project in Western Australia for $1.35 billion.

The agreement, announced on Monday, would provide Wheatstone joint venture partner Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co. (Kufpec) an additional 8% equity interest in the Wheatstone-Iago joint venture LNG project. Kufpec also would secure a 6.4% stake in 8.9 million metric tons/year of LNG from the still-to-be completed facility. No existing commercial agreements would be impacted.

"Shell will remain a major player in Australia's energy industry," said CEO Ben van Beurden, who took the helm this month. "However, we are refocusing our investment to where we can add the most value with Shell's capital and technology. We are making hard choices in our worldwide portfolio to improve Shell's capital efficiency."

Shell acquired the interest in the Chevron Corp.-led project in 2011 (see Daily GPI, April 12, 2011). With the Shell sale, Chevron still would control close to 74% of Wheatstone, with Apache Corp. holding a 13% interest and Kufpec with an increased stake to about 15%.

Peter Voser, who stepped down as CEO at the end of 2013, three months ago was touting Shell's global LNG prospects. The natural gas-weighted major is one of the largest LNG suppliers on the planet with, among other things, a proposed export project pending in British Columbia (see Daily GPI, Jan. 3).

"At Shell, we see worldwide LNG supplies doubling this decade and Australia is front and center," Voser said in October (see Daily GPI, Oct. 15, 2013)."It's building around half a dozen major new LNG projects. By the end of the decade, Australia could rival Qatar as the world's biggest LNG exporter. By 2020, North America may also emerge as a significant LNG supplier. This year, the U.S. government has granted several new permits for projects to export LNG worldwide. And in Canada, Shell, Kogas and other partners have announced plans to develop an export facility on the Pacific Coast..."

At the time, however, Voser said Shell had to "acknowledge certain realities. None of these LNG projects are cheap or easy to build. They're major infrastructure projects. And there's competition for the human and physical resources needed to build them. So the energy industry must continue to strengthen the competitiveness of natural gas."

Last week Shell warned on fourth quarter results, in part because of the commodity price environment (see Daily GPI, Jan. 17). The pullback in Australia follows a decision by management last October to scale back North American operations and to sell some acreage.

Also being questioned by analysts on Tuesday is the future of Shell's drilling plans offshore Alaska. The U.S. Department of Interior last week requested more details on a revamped drilling/safety plan, which Shell had indicated it wanted to ramp up as soon as this summer. Shell was to have continued drilling projects in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas last year, but those were put on hold after Interior sharply criticized Shell for failing to maintain "adequate oversight" of its contractors and for problems with equipment (see Daily GPI, March 18, 2013).

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