The biggest loser at LNG18

IT WOULD be going too far for Slugcatcher to say that the LNG18 conference which kicks off in Perth tomorrow can be compared with one of those dreadful reality television shows – The Biggest Loser.
The biggest loser at LNG18 The biggest loser at LNG18 The biggest loser at LNG18 The biggest loser at LNG18 The biggest loser at LNG18

But, if you happen to be sitting in the Riverside Theatre at Perth's convention centre when proceedings move past the official opening with its political overtones and self-congratulations, three contenders for the title of Biggest Loser will be on stage.

John Watson from Chevron. Ben van Beurden from Shell and Peter Coleman from Woodside Petroleum are the men in the running for champion loser, though it is highly unlikely that the facilitator for the opening plenary session, Maria can der Hoeven, would make such a suggestion.

As Maria is likely to dodge the question of losses, The Slug is prepared to take up the challenge, which is not about the weight of the men on stage, it's about the amount of money their companies have lost on adventures in liquefied natural gas over the past few years.

John, CEO and chairman of Chevron, has been handed the ideal opportunity to bring the audience up to speed on the cost overruns, completion delays and the excruciatingly embarrassing shut-down for repairs after one shipment of the Gorgon LNG project.

Ben, who will be paying close attention to John because Shell has a stake in Gorgon, has a chance to explain the merits of his high-priced takeover of BG Group and exposure to the delights of coal-seam methane exports into a glutted LNG market.

Peter, who will be watched closely by John and Ben because their companies are stakeholders in Woodside projects, can explain why the latest attempt to develop the Browse project has failed, like earlier attempts, and then he can move on to the stalled Sunrise LNG project and the failed attempt to invest in Israel's Leviathan project.

Three men. Three losers. What a shame the LNG18 organisers didn't invite to the opening discussion the only Australian executive who can claim to be a winner in the current market for oil and gas, Peter Botten from Oil Search.

Perhaps Peter's success would have been too much for the others to tolerate, not that the Oil Search boss has been known to boast, though that might be changing given his appearance on the cover of The Financial Review's Boss magazine late last week.

A coincidence? The Slug thinks not.

Meanwhile, back on stage there is more to be considered about the starting line-up; and while we have to wait to hear what the three stars of the show have to say it's a fair bet that there will not be an apology from any of them.

There ought to be, because what the men from Chevron, Shell and Woodside have done to the finances of their companies over the past few years is the opposite of how they produce LNG, a gas which is converted into a liquid.

Huge cost overruns, project completion delays and expensive takeovers mean that all three have seen liquid money converted into gas - and then whoosh, the gasified money has been blown away in the wind.

In their defence the men from Chevron, Shell and Woodside can claim exceptional circumstances caused by the failure of Peak Oil theory to deliver the never-ending boom which caused them to invest shareholders' funds in projects that might never be profitable, or only will be profitable long after they've retired.

Or they can claim that no one could have foreseen the impact of US-developed technology to extract unconventional oil and gas from shale and other rock types long regarded as impervious.

Unfortunately, a defence resting on Peak Oil theory fails the test of technology development and ability of the oil industry to always a find a way to solve a problem.

As for missing the impact of shale oil and gas there isn't a leg to stand on because it was being discussed at least a decade ago when The Slug attended the North Texas Oil and Gas Association annual conference in Wichita Falls, and was the subject of some brilliant academic studies by Amy Myers Jaffe at Rice University's in Houston some six years ago.

The timing on that academic paper "Shale gas will rock the world" was reproduced by the Wall Street Journal in May 2010, just as Chevron pressed the go button on Gorgon.

That famous warning from Jaffe deserves prominent display at the poster exhibition at LNG18 because it was the point at which massive LNG projects took their first step towards today's crisis.

Since the original paper is unlikely to be aired at the Perth conference there is even less chance that Ms Jaffe's latest thoughts will get an airing given that they're headed: "Why the world's appetite for oil will peak soon" - a thought that redefines Peak Oil, not supply but demand!

So, in answer to the original question of who's the biggest loser at LNG18 - the Dutchman, of course, because Ben has BG to explain, plus a share of Gorgon, plus a share of Woodside and its multiple problem-projects.

Well done Ben, LNG18's biggest loser.