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Financial Times: Exxon cancels gas-to-liquids project in Qatar

By Ed Crooks in London
Published: February 21 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 21 2007 02:00

ExxonMobil has scrapped plans for a multi-billion-dollar gas-to-liquids (GTL) project in Qatar that would have converted natural gas into fuel, lubricant and chemical feedstocks.

The cancellation is the biggest setback yet for GTL technology, which its backers hope will be an important source of road fuel and petrochemical products in the next decade. Exxon will instead join in a project developing gas for the domestic market in Qatar.

When the first agreement between Exxon and Qatar was signed in July 2004, the GTL project’s estimated cost was $7bn. Since then, costs across the industry have risen sharply, threatening its profitability.

Rajnish Goswami of Wood Mackenzie said: “GTL is feeling the impact of higher costs more because it is a nascent technology.”

The GTL plant, a joint venture between Exxon and Qatar Petroleum, was planned to come on stream after 2009 and would have produced 154,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Exxon said the decisionto abandon it was consistent with its investment approach, “which focuses on maximising the value of the resources for both the host government and our shareholders”.

The Qatar project was Exxon’s only active involvement in a GTL plant. However, it said it would continue to look for alternative opportunities for the technology in which it had invested $600m over twodecades and taken out 3,500patents.

There is also a rapidlyrising demand for gas in Qatar, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing electricity generation sectors, using gas-fired powerstations. It holds the world’s third-largest gas reserves but the government has imposed a moratorium on new developments.

In place of the GTL plant, Exxon and Qatar Petroleum are to develop the Barzan gas field, producing 1.5bn cu ft of gas per day for the domestic market, starting in 2012. That output is roughly equivalent to Qatar’s entire gas consumption in 2005.

Exxon’s decision does not affect Royal Dutch Shell’s Pearl GTL project, which was given its final approval last July. There will be an official ceremony at the plant tomorrow to mark the start of construction.

Shell has indicated that it expects the project to cost $12bn-$18bn over its lifetime, producing 3bn boe in total, working out at $4-$6 per barrel, which it argues compares well to conventional sources of oil.

Oryx, another GTL project that is a joint venture between Sasol of South Africa and Qatar Petroleum, produced its first final product at the end of last month.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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