Canada Continues Its Pivot Toward Asia


“(The delay in approval of the Keystone XL pipeline) does underscore the necessity of Canada making sure that we are able to access Asian markets for our energy products. And that will be an important priority of our government going forward.” –Stephen Harper, November 2011


Since those blunt remarks from the Canadian prime minister, the US continues to dither on ultimate approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. Meanwhile, the latest evidence of Canada’s turn toward Asia came just yesterday with the National Energy Board’s (NEB) grant of a 25-year export license to LNG Canada Development Inc.

LNG Canada is the second major liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal project slated for construction near Kitimat, a small coastal city in British Columbia. The license authorizes the terminal to export a total of 670 million tonnes of LNG for the duration of the license. That’s equivalent to almost 33 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

On an annual basis, the terminal is permitted to export up to 24 million tonnes of LNG, or about 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Such limits were imposed to ensure that Canada’s domestic energy needs are fulfilled first.

Of course, the vagaries of US politics aren’t the only thing causing Canada to look for new markets overseas. Production from the prolific US shale plays is already eroding demand for Canadian energy commodities.

In the case of natural gas, Canada’s exports via pipeline to the US have fallen nearly every year since 2007, and some industry veterans worry that it’s on an inexorable slide toward zero. That year, exports of natural gas peaked at 10.4 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d) and have since dropped more than 22 percent to 8.1 bcf/d in 2012.

LNG Canada will initially operate with a capacity of 2 billion bcf/d, with the option to expand further. To get a sense of the estimated USD12 billion project’s scale in context with the aforementioned export figures, at peak capacity it will handle the equivalent of almost 25 percent of Canada’s natural gas exports to the US last year.

The export facility is a joint venture between Shell Canada Ltd, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE: RDS-A) and three Asian firms, Korea Gas Corp (Korea: 036460), Mitsubishi Corp (OTC: MSBHY), and PetroChina Co Ltd (NYSE: PTR). The site will eventually include natural gas treatment facilities, LNG liquefaction and storage facilities, marine terminal facilities, an interconnecting cryogenic LNG transfer pipeline, as well as other infrastructure.

Of course, the project was only announced in late spring of last year, so it’s still at an embryonic stage. Construction isn’t likely to begin for at least a couple more years, with startup commencing toward the end of the decade, assuming the venture clears financing and regulatory hurdles.

Even so, TransCanada Corp (NYSE: TRP) was already selected last summer to build a 700 kilometer pipeline that will transport natural gas to the facility from producers situated in the Montney Shale in northeast British Columbia. The Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project is estimated to cost CAD$4 billion, with construction expected to commence in 2015.

Under Development

Meanwhile, Canada has three other LNG export projects at varying stages of development. And LNG Canada is not the only project to be partially underwritten by deep-pocketed, state-owned foreign companies. Following its acquisition of Progress Energy Resources Corp in December, Malaysian energy giant Petronas Nasional will now proceed with the former company’s CAD9 billion-plus Pacific Northwest LNG project near Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Given the natural gas reserves of the newly merged entity, the terminal would need a capacity of about 2 bcf/d to accommodate supply. Construction is slated to begin in late 2014, with export operations expected to start in 2018. It has yet to secure an export license from the NEB.

And once again, TransCanada stands to benefit from this activity. Progress Energy Canada Ltd, a subsidiary of Petronas, selected the firm early last month to build and operate a 750 kilometer pipeline to move natural gas from the Montney to the proposed Prince Rupert facility. The cost of the pipeline is estimated at CAD5 billion.

Among the two other LNG export projects in British Columbia is the BC LNG Export Co-Operative, a joint venture between private equity firm LNG Partners and HN DC LNG LP, a vehicle formed to benefit the Haisla Nation. The latter entity has backing from players such as Talisman Energy Inc (NYSE: TLM) and Tenaska Marketing Canada. The project was granted a 20-year export license in early 2012, with capacity capped at 36 million tonnes for that timespan, or 1.8 million tonnes per year.

The small-scale plant will move about 700,000 tonnes per year initially, with a planned capacity of 900,000 tonnes thereafter. A contract for financing the facility’s construction was awarded to Golar LNG Ltd (NSDQ: GLNG) and LNG Partners late last month. An offtake agreement was part of the contract, and the two firms will market 700,000 tonnes of LNG per year to trading companies and utilities. The plant should begin operation during the second quarter of 2015.

Finally, there’s Kitimat LNG, the estimated USD15 billion behemoth in which Chevron Corp (NYSE: CVX) purchased a 50 percent stake from Apache Corp’s (NYSE: APA) former partners Encana Corp (NYSE: ECA) and EOG Resources Inc (NYSE: EOG) in late December. Chevron will operate the LNG terminal and pipeline, while Apache runs the acreage that supplies it.

The project received a 20-year export license in October 2011, with capacity capped at 200 million tonnes during that period, or 10 million tonnes per year. Its initial capacity is anticipated at 5 million tonnes per annum, with a potential doubling of that capacity over time. It’s expected to commence operations in mid-2016, at the earliest.

Even with all these projects, Canadian LNG faces significant competition from Qatar, Australia, and eventually the US. Qatar is currently the largest exporter of LNG in the world, while Australia has two LNG export facilities that are already in operation and another 23 projects under development. But Canada has an edge over Australia in terms of development and production costs. And Asia’s insatiable demand for resources should mean supply remains tight even as more exporters enter the global market.