The U.S. natural gas export project long envisioned by sponsors ExxonMobil Corp. and state-owned Qatar Petroleum (QP) was sanctioned Tuesday, with construction on the Texas coast in Sabine Pass set to begin before the end of March.

ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods had hinted last Friday during the quarterly conference call that the estimated $10 billion project would pass muster if it could compete with the bevy of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in progress along the Gulf Coast.

“The extensive experience of ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum provides the expertise, resources and financial strength needed to construct and operate an integrated liquefaction and export facility in the United States,” Woods said Tuesday in announcing the final investment decision.

Golden Pass, with capacity of about 16 million metric tons/year (mmty) or 2 Bcf/d, is to include three liquefaction trains, each with capacity of 5.2 mmty. Also planned are associated utility systems, interconnections and an expansion of the facility’s storm protection levee system.

“Our team has worked diligently on the design, development and permitting for this world-class LNG export facility, and we are eager to begin construction to bring this exciting project to life,” Golden Pass President Sean Ryan said.

Support by employees and the coastal community “has been absolutely critical in getting to this point, and we look forward to a long partnership going forward.”

Houston-based Golden Pass sponsors originally designed a gas import project in 2003, when U.S. gas stores were depleted and unconventional resources had yet to be affirmed.

The export design is using the existing infrastructure, which includes five storage tanks, two marine berths to accommodate the largest LNG carriers, and an existing 69-mile pipeline system with access to U.S. markets. Additionally, the project may include more compressor stations for the existing pipeline to receive and deliver up to 2.6 Bcf/d of supply.

Construction is expected to take about five years and be operational in 2024.

Engineering, procurement and construction contracts were awarded to a joint venture of Chiyoda International Corp., McDermott International Inc. and Zachry Group. A 20-year firm transportation agreement has also been sealed with Enable Midstream Partners LP, and pipeline capacity was secured with Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America LLC.

Golden Pass agreed to be a 20-year cornerstone shipper for Enable’s proposed interstate gas system Gulf Run Pipeline, with a commitment of 1.1 Bcf/d. Gulf Run, launched last fall, is proposing to move up to 2.75 Bcf/d from Northern Louisiana to the Gulf Coast to supply export projects. Enable is anticipating a late 2022 in-service date, including filing for required approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Enable CEO Rod Sailor said the Golden Pass partners were “proven global leaders in producing, shipping and marketing natural gas worldwide, and we look forward to providing Golden Pass unrivaled market access to diverse natural gas supply sources."

The agreement with Enable “is a key component in securing transportation for our export facility’s natural gas supply,” said Ryan.

“The Lone Star State leads the nation in domestic oil and gas production, and today’s announcement further solidifies that reputation,” Gov. Greg Abbott said. “This expansion represents not only an investment in creating jobs and growing our state’s economy, but also in expanding our nation’s international export reach and energy independence.”

Golden Pass expects to support about 9,000 construction jobs over the construction period and employ more than 200 people when it is operational. According to a preliminary independent study by The Perryman Group, the $10 billion-plus infrastructure investment could generate up to $31 billion in U.S. economic gains and $4.6 billion in taxes for the United States at local, state and national levels, ExxonMobil noted.

“Jefferson County is ready to see this project come to life,” County Judge Jeff Branick said. “After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, our region looks forward to the economic boost this project will bring, and through its Opportunity Roadmap program Golden Pass has laid the groundwork to make sure local residents and businesses have access to the opportunities.”

The Center for LNG’s executive director Charlie Riedl noted that Golden Pass has become the first global gas export project to be sanctioned this year, paving the way “ for a great year for U.S. LNG...Community involvement has been a hallmark of the Golden Pass project, and its role in the community will continue to grow” with the news.

While the size of Golden Pass “is exciting,” Riedl said, “amazingly it represents only a tiny fraction of the enormous supply of natural gas that is domestically available.”

Golden Pass is part of ExxonMobil’s plans to invest more than $50 billion over the next five years to build and expand manufacturing facilities in the United States, including through its Growing the Gulf initiative, which could create about 45,000 jobs along the Gulf Coast.

The export project could portend “a record year” for global final investment decisions (FID) for LNG projects, according to Wood Mackenzie. Principal analyst Alex Munton said it is “one of the few remaining brownfield LNG development opportunities on the U.S. Gulf Coast…

“Even if costs come in at slightly above the $10 billion mark, on a dollars/metric ton basis, it's still one of the lowest-cost opportunities for new large-scale liquefaction capacity anywhere in the world.”

Because ExxonMobil is the second-largest gas producer in the Lower 48, Golden Pass also could support additional upstream supply development, Munton said.

Working interests in Golden Pass project are 70% owned by QP and 30% owned by ExxonMobil. The project builds upon an international relationship between the two giant producers, with QP also joining ExxonMobil in exploration and development activities in Argentina, Brazil and Mozambique.