Like all oil companies, Shell took a hit last year when the oil price collapsed, with some futures contracts briefly diving into negative territory while the commonly traded price of Brent-quality crude dipped as low as $19 a barrel.

Oil has been moving higher since that price crash but whether it will rise to a point where Prelude can achieve a “commercial break-even” level is a question which has landed on the desk of Royal Dutch Shell’s incoming chairman, Andrew Mackenzie.

It will be the former chief executive of BHP who takes up his new post at Shell next month who will be forced to make a decision on whether to persevere with the Prelude experiment on write it off as a failure.

Work In Progress

The official position before a fresh Prelude write-off played a key part in Shell Australia’s latest loss is that Prelude is a work in progress with problems rectified as they occur.

But, with the giant barge already having cost Shell somewhere between $12 billion and $17 billion (the exact figure has not been revealed) it might be viewed as courageous by Shell shareholders if Mackenzie continues with the floating LNG trial.

Not only has a large amount of capital been invested in Prelude with no return, yet, but the outlook for oil and gas in a world veering towards renewable energy is an added complication.

Rather than Shell persisting with Prelude a case appears to be emerging for a finale.