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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Woodside Petroleum steps up its LNG plans

By ALEX WILSON
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ASIA
February 21, 2008

MELBOURNE, Australia — Woodside Petroleum Ltd. signaled yesterday it is stepping up its drive to bring a series of planned liquefied-natural-gas developments on line.

The Australian oil-and-gas producer outlined an aggressive new timetable for delivery of projects aimed at taking advantage of strong demand in Asia.

Woodside also posted a full-year net profit of A$1.03 billion (US$946.3 million), down 28% from A$1.43 billion in 2006, but just ahead of market expectations of A$1.02 billion. It said the profit was hurt by a loss of A$233.1 million related to the sale of its underperforming assets in Mauritania.

The Perth-based company said underlying net profit fell 15% to A$1.18 billion as a stronger Australian dollar, higher exploration expenses and increasing depreciation and amortization offset the benefits from higher production and commodity prices.

Analysts said the result was roughly in line with expectations, but new detail on plans for LNG developments helped drive the stock up 4.6% to A$53.59. Revenue from ordinary activities rose 11% to A$3.84 billion.

In 2007 Woodside gave the green light to the A$12 billion development of the Pluto LNG project, near its current North West Shelf joint venture, which will produce 4.3 trillion cubic feet of gas a year with 2010 the target for first production.

The company had previously signaled plans for a second LNG processing train at the site but hadn’t given any timetable until yesterday.

Chief Executive Don Voelte said engineering work would be complete to allow a final investment decision on the second train by the end of 2008, which could allow first gas to be produced in 2012.

However, Mr. Voelte said the timing of the final investment decision would depend on Woodside securing the extra gas it needs for Pluto 2, either through exploration or deals with third parties who have gas reserves in the region.

Mr. Voelte also flagged an aggressive new approach to getting the Sunrise LNG project in the Timor Sea under way, saying he had met with the chief executives of project partners Conoco Phillips and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, who had agreed to push the project forward in 2008.

The partners expect rapid work toward selection of a development concept from the three options available, he said, and are now targeting a final investment decision in 2009 with first gas as early as 2013.

Mr. Voelte said that there were a growing number of LNG projects on the drawing board in the region, but that Woodside was in a unique position with a number of projects now getting under way.

Write to Alex Wilson at [email protected]

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