Australia’s Woodside Petroleum said Monday that it will spend about AU$3 billion (US$2.28 billion) to build a natural gas liquefaction plant to serve its Pluto gas field off the coast of Western Australia. The estimated gas resource in the field totals 3.5 Tcf. Deliveries to the United States and Asia are scheduled to begin in 2010.

Woodside CEO Don Voelte said the company is speeding up development plans at Pluto because of expected strong LNG demand by 2010-2012 in the Asia-Pacific region and in North America. “We are now confident that we have sufficient gas to justify an LNG plant with a capacity of five to seven million tonnes a year,” he said.

He said customers in Asia and North America have shown strong interest in Pluto because of its potential size and Woodside’s track record on LNG projects. Woodside has a full plate of projects as it moves to complete the fifth LNG processing train at its North West Shelf joint venture by 2008.

Pluto is located 118 miles northwest of Karratha and 56 miles west of Woodside’s Goodwyn production platform on the North West Shelf. Development of the field is expected to include an offshore platform with a large diameter pipeline to shore, up to two LNG processing trains and a loading dock. Front-end engineering for the project is expected to begin in November with a final investment decision in 2007.

The U.S. imported only about 15 Bcf of LNG from Australia last year out of a total of 652 Bcf in 244 LNG cargoes. The majority of U.S. LNG imports (462.1 Bcf) came from Trinidad and Tobago. Algeria, Malaysia, Qatar, Nigeria, Oman and Spain provided the remainder, according to the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy.

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