Browse deal may speed up development
Browse deal 'may speed up development'

UPDATE 1.05pm: Oil and gas giant Chevron's decision to exit the controversial Woodside-led Browse LNG project in the State's north could help speed up development, analysts say.

Chevron late yesterday announced it had swapped its stake in the project off the Kimberley coast for gas interests held by Royal Dutch Shell that the US energy giant aimed to eventually feed into its Wheatstone LNG project in the Pilbara.

Woodside Petroleum, which is the major equity holder and operator of the proposed project, confirmed that it had agreed to Chevron's plan.

The transaction involves Shell acquiring Chevron's entire interest in the east and west Browse joint ventures for a consideration comprising cash and assets.

State One Stockbroking analyst Peter Kopetz said the move was positive for Woodside and the Browse development.

"It takes out a third party that maybe was opposed to the location of the development, so it's starting to look like development might happen sooner rather than later," Mr Kopetz said.

It made sense for Chevron to concentrate on the Wheatstone LNG project and Shell to concentrate on Browse.

"For Woodside, potentially things could move along much, much quicker," Mr Kopetz said.

He doubts that environmental consideration played a great part in the decision.

At 11.20am Woodside shares were up 90 cents, or 2.56 per cent, to $36.02.

The deal involves Chevron buying a 16.7 per cent stake in the east Browse title and its 20 per cent interest in the west Browse title.

In exchange, Shell will hand over its 33.3 per cent stake in the Clio-Acme titles in the Carnarvon Basin, off the North West coast.

Shell also will pay Chevron $US450 million ($A432.59 million) as part of the deal.

Once the deal is completed, Shell will hold a 35 per cent stake in the west Browse titles and 25 per cent of the east Browse titles.

Chevron was a joint venture partner in the Browse liquefied natural gas (LNG) project along with Woodside, BHP Billiton, BP and Shell.

The deadline for a final decision on whether to proceed with the Browse project was recently pushed back to early 2013.

In July, Woodside gained the regulatory all-clear to sell a third of its stake in the $30 billion project to Japan's Mitsubishi Corporation and Mitsui & Co.

The Japanese companies bought a 14.7 per cent stake in the project through their Perth-based joint venture company, Japan Australia LNG (MIMI).

Woodside said it had agreed to waive its pre-emption rights in respect of the sale of Chevron Australia's entire equity stake in the Browse joint ventures to Shell Development (Australia) Pty Ltd.

"The value of the consideration, as determined by Shell and Chevron, is commensurate with the consideration agreed to be paid by Japan Australia LNG (MIMI Browse) Pty Ltd to acquire an interest in the Browse joint ventures from Woodside in the transaction announced by Woodside on 1 May 2012," Woodside said in a statement.

The company declined to comment further until it reports its first half results tomorrow.

Premier Colin Barnett said Chevron's departure from the Browse gas project left the door open for Chinese involvement in the joint venture.

"It reduces the number of participants from six down to five in the Browse Basin and leaves space for China to come in as an equity holder," he told ABC radio.

"Chevron concentrating on its other two LNG projects, the Japanese coming in as a buyer, an investor, and the high prospect of the Chinese doing the same is all part of the shuffling and the re-arranging of ownership, which is good news for the development."

The Premier also reiterated his preference for the James Price Point project site, rather than piping it to Woodside's existing North West Shelf facilities.

While he could not force the joint venture to pipe the Browse gas south to the Pilbara, he warned "they may lose the gas rights".

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said the Premier should not be threatening major international companies looking at investing in WA.

"Chevron has shown it has little confidence in his approach on these issues - they have voted with their feet and left the joint venture," he said.

Mr McGowan said the Browse partners should be allowed to decide whether to pipe the gas to the Pilbara or push ahead with the James Price Point development.

"Let the companies make a commercial decision," he said.

Mr Barnett also said the project could be delayed by a year or so amid uncertain market conditions.

Earlier this year, he said Chinese parties had flagged interest in taking a stake in Browse of up to 25 per cent.

The West Australian

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