Cheniere Energy Inc. continues to dominate the U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export market, completing the first commissioning cargo from the second train at the Corpus Christi LNG terminal in South Texas.

Full completion of the second production unit is expected later this year, and a third train is set for completion in the second half of 2021, the Houston-based operator said.

Corpus Christi is Cheniere's second export project after Sabine Pass in Louisiana, and it would be the third facility to carry Lower 48 supply to international markets. Cheniere management has long credited the long-standing partnership with engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) giant Bechtel Oil, Gas and Chemicals for its success in bringing projects online ahead of schedule and under budget.

Bechtel also continues to work with Cheniere on expanding the Sabine Pass terminal, with a final investment decision reached in June to develop a sixth train at the Louisiana facility.

“This is the result of thoughtful planning and execution, and excellent teamwork with Bechtel,” said Cheniere’s David Craft, senior vice president of engineering and construction.

Bechtel LNG general manager Darren Mort said, “This milestone shows once again that our integrated, direct-hire EPC model and our philosophy of ’design it once and build it many times’ means lower cost, shorter delivery schedules, and greater certainty of outcome for our customers.”

Meanwhile, San Diego-based Sempra Energy, after previously announced delays to the second and third trains at its Cameron LNG export terminal in Louisiana, has reached an agreement for performance-based commercial considerations with its two EPC contractors. McDermott International and Chiyoda International have been providing the work on the first three trains at the Cameron export terminal, and the deal would “further align the interests of all parties around safe, timely completion of Phase 1 of Cameron LNG,” Sempra said.

Commissioning of the first train of Cameron’s Phase 1 follows its commissioning shipment and first production in May. The second and third trains at the facility, which would bring total export capacity to 12 million metric tons/year (mmty), have been pushed back to 1Q2020 and 2Q2020, respectively.

Overall economics for Cameron are not expected to significantly change because of the new EPC agreement, according to Sempra, which “continues to expect full-year earnings from the first three trains to be in the range of $400-450 million."

Cameron is a joint venture (JV) between Sempra LNG, Total SA, Mitsui & Co. Ltd., and Japan LNG Investment LLC, itself jointly owned by Mitsubishi Corp. and Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha. Sempra holds a 50.2% stake.

Sempra is also developing the second phase at Cameron and is developing Port Arthur LNG in Texas and Energía Costa Azul (ECA) LNG Phase 1 and Phase 2 in Mexico.

Australia Declines

Australia, a top global LNG producer and in head-to-head competition as the world’s No. 1 supplier, could see lower exports as early as next year, according to government forecasts. Australia still expects to add 6.5 mmty with the start-up of the 3.6 mmty Prelude floating LNG project and the 4.2 mmty Ichthys T2 facility.

“But the Australian government now sees this as peak, and it expects exports to start to decline due to lower output at the 3.7 mmty Darwin LNG, although the decline in 2020-21 is forecast to be limited to just 0.1 mmty year/year,” Energy Aspects said.

Stronger declines were seen thereafter following ConocoPhillips’ June announcement that it expects the Darwin LNG plant to close for one to two years between 2021 and 2023, when gas from the Bayu-Undan field in the Timor Sea is exhausted. Complete closure of the project would wipe out about 3.6 mmty that the project has produced in the last 12-month period, suggesting that the second half of 2021 through 2022 could see more dramatic declines in Australian exports, according to Energy Aspects.

Last month, Rystad Energy said Australia was poised to become the world’s largest LNG producer in 2020 and retain that position until 2024, when Qatar would reclaim the top production spot. Australia temporarily took the top LNG production slot for the first time in November, when it loaded 6.5 metric tons (mt) of LNG for exports, while Qatar exported 6.2 mt. The drop in Qatari LNG exports in November was because of maintenance, making Australia’s time at the top limited.

Meanwhile, Australia’s booming LNG exports have left less supply for domestic markets, with rising commodity prices potentially forcing many manufacturers out of business, according to the Energy Users Association of Australia. The group said gas costs for domestic consumers had risen by as much as 300% since Australia began exporting LNG from east coast terminals.

However, just last week, Australia Pacific LNG reached a deal with explosives manufacturer Orica Ltd. to deliver 10.2 petajoules (PJ) over four years starting in 2021, while packaging manufacturer Orora would take up to 6 PJ of gas over three years at an option beginning in 2023.

In addition, APLNG and JV partner Armour Energy were awarded a tender by the Queensland government to develop gas supplies for the domestic industry. The project partners said at the time that developing the tender block would help it sign gas supply agreements to deliver more than 50 PJ of gas to a number of Australian manufacturers.