Last week, Indonesian state energy firm Pertamina admitted that the country may become a net importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by 2020, as soaring demand in the populous western islands dwarf domestic supplies from the energy-rich east. This isn’t the first time that this scenario has been mooted – the BMI Group projects the tipping point to be 2022, while Wood Mackenzie expects LNG demand in Indonesia to hit 7 mtpa by 2020 – with the fundamental structural shift always being the same: rising demand from a growing population and industrial base versus declining output at the country’s domestic gas fields.
As a country, Indonesia has some 1.6% of the world’s total gas reserves, according to the BP Statistical Review. In theory, it should not be in a situation where it is short of gas. The reality is though, that Indonesia is a country of two halves – the gas-deficit west, where the islands of Sumatra and Java represent nearly three-quarters of demand, and the gas-surplus east, where remote areas in Kalimantan, Papua, Maluku and Nusa Tenggara churn out plenty of natural gas. Bridging the two is tough. As an archipelago, Indonesia cannot opt for a nation-wide pipeline network; even within the country, domestic liquefaction and regasification facilities are required to move natural gas from producing areas in the east to consuming areas in the west.
That infrastructure is still lacking. Indonesia has a national roadmap to make natural gas 20% of the national energy mix by 2025, and has set out a US$48.2 billion plan from 2016 to 2030 to build an ambitious gas grid. The existing infrastructure is mainly concentrated on regas facilities in Java and a pipeline connecting to Riau islands in the South China Sea to Java running through Sumatra, which does not solve the conundrum of moving gas from Indonesia’s east to west. So the planned investment will be primarily focused on building a network of smaller-scale liquefaction facilities across the east, supplemented by mini-LNG terminals connected directly to gas-fired power plants in the east.
This, in theory, should allow Indonesia to bridge the gap between its two halves. The question is, will there be enough gas? Indonesia is currently the fifth largest LNG exporter in the world, but its contracts are aging and based on maturing fields where international firms are the operators. They will be sending most of that LNG to Japan and Korea, with a lesser portion saved for the Domestic Market Obligation (DMO) clause. Given declining natural gas output in recent years, the DMO supply is insufficient to meet growing demand. Unlike Petronas in Malaysia, Pertamina does not have an international network of gas and LNG sources with which it can swap and juggle to maintain domestic balance.
Starting up new production sources is an answer, but this has always been an area that Indonesia faces immense problems with due to the fiscal terms it offers for its E&P contracts. ExxonMobil walked away from the East Natuna project earlier this year over exactly that, while years of wrangling have push the projected start of Inpex/Shell’s Masela-Abadi LNG project from 2018 to 2025 at the earliest. Chevron’s Indonesia Deepwater Development (IDD) project in the Makassar Strait was supposed to start in 2016, but has now been pushed to 2020 due to ‘bureaucratic holdups’. These three, and other projects, would have provided enough additional LNG supplies to allow domestic supply to keep pace with demand, but chronic delays have axed the scenario. That isn’t to say that there aren’t bright spots in Indonesia’s natural gas scene – Eni’s Jangkrik field is reporting results that are a third higher than its initial 450 mmscf/d capacity, and BP has sanctioned an expansion of Tangguh LNG to include a Train 3 – but these are balanced with weak spots, like Total’s recent reduction in the expected output for the Mahakam field, which feeds the Bontang LNG plant.
So Indonesia must turn to imports to meet demand, which is projected to grow rapidly given the Indonesia government’s push to move power generation from coal to gas. A recent suggestion that Indonesia may be purchasing LNG from Singapore caused some furore based on national pride last month, but this is the future. Pertamina already has LNG supply deals with Australia’s Woodside (2019-2034), Cheniere (from 2018-2038) and ExxonMobil (2025-2045). Cavalier Indonesian officials may think that this might not even be needed – suggesting that this is ‘insurance’ supply that can be quickly redirected on the international market – but reality is more stark. As things stand, if there was an OPEC for gas, Indonesia would be forced to bow out in 2020. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – Malaysia recently went through a similar evolution – but it does mean that resource patriotism can no longer apply.
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It has been 21 years since Japanese upstream firm Inpex signed on to explore the Masela block in Indonesia in 1998 and 19 years since the discovery of the giant Abadi natural gas field in 2000. In that time, Inpex’s Ichthys field in Australia was discovered, exploited and started LNG production last year, delivering its first commercial cargo just a few months ago. Meanwhile, the abundant gas in the Abadi field close to the Australia-Indonesia border has remained under the waves. Until recently, that is, when Inpex had finally reached a new deal with the Indonesian government to revive the stalled project and move ahead with a development plan.
This could have come much earlier. Much, much earlier. Inpex had submitted its first development plan for Abadi in 2010, encompassing a Floating LNG project with an initial capacity of 2.5 million tons per annum. As the size of recoverable reserves at Abadi increased, the development plan was revised upwards – tripling the planned capacity of the FLNG project to be located in the Arafura Sea to 7.5 million tons per annum. But at that point, Indonesia had just undergone a crucial election and moods had changed. In April 2016, the Indonesian government essentially told Inpex to go back to the drawing board to develop Abadi, directing them to shift from a floating processing solution to an onshore one, which would provide more employment opportunities. The onshore option had been rejected initially by Inpex in 2010, given that the nearest Indonesian land is almost 100km north of the field. But with Indonesia keen to boost activity in its upstream sector, the onshore mandate arrived firmly. And now, after 3 years of extended evaluation, Inpex has delivered its new development plan.
The new plan encompasses an onshore LNG plant with a total production capacity of 9.5 million tons per annum. With an estimated cost of US$18-20 billion, it will be the single largest investment in Indonesia and one of the largest LNG plants operated by a Japanese firm. FID is expected within 3 years, with a tentative target operational timeline of the late 2020s. LNG output will be targeted at Japan’s massive market, but also growing demand centres such as China. But Abadi will be entering into a far more crowded field that it would have if initial plans had gone ahead in 2010; with US Gulf Coast LNG producers furiously constructing at the moment and mega-LNG projects in Australia, Canada and Russia beating Abadi’s current timeline, Abadi will have a tougher fight for market share when it starts operations. The demand will be there, but the huge rise in the level of supplies will dilute potential profits.
It is a risk worth taking, at least according to Inpex and its partner Shell, which owns the remaining 35% of the Abadi gas field. But development of Abadi will be more important to Indonesia. Faced with a challenging natural gas environment – output from the Bontang, Tangguh and Badak LNG plants will soon begin their decline phase, while the huge potential of the East Natuna gas field is complicated by its composition of sour gas – Indonesia sees Abadi as a way of getting its gas ship back on track. Abadi is one of Indonesia’s few remaining large natural gas discoveries with a high potential commercialisation opportunities. The new agreement with Inpex extends the firm’s licence to operate the Masela field by 27 years to 2055 with the 150 mscf pipeline and the onshore plant expected to be completed by 2027. It might be too late by then to reverse Indonesia’s chronic natural gas and LNG production decline, but to Indonesia, at least some progress is better than none.
The Abadi LNG Project:
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 10 June 2019 – Brent: US$62/b; WTI: US$53/b
Headlines of the week
Midstream & Downstream
A month ago, crude oil prices were riding a wave, comfortably trading in the mid-US$70/b range and trending towards the US$80 mark as the oil world fretted about the expiration of US waivers on Iranian crude exports. Talk among OPEC members ahead of the crucial June 25 meeting of OPEC and its OPEC+ allies in Vienna turned to winding down its own supply deal.
That narrative has now changed. With Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov suggesting that there was a risk that oil prices could fall as low as US$30/b and the Saudi Arabia-Russia alliance preparing for a US$40/b oil scenario, it looks more and more likely that the production deal will be extended to the end of 2019. This was already discussed in a pre-conference meeting in April where Saudi Arabia appeared to have swayed a recalcitrant Russia into provisionally extending the deal, even if Russia itself wasn’t in adherence.
That the suggestion that oil prices were heading for a drastic drop was coming from Russia is an eye-opener. The major oil producer has been dragging its feet over meeting its commitments on the current supply deal; it was seen as capitalising on Saudi Arabia and its close allies’ pullback over February and March. That Russia eventually reached adherence in May was not through intention but accident – contamination of crude at the major Druzhba pipeline which caused a high ripple effect across European refineries surrounding the Baltic. Russia also is shielded from low crude prices due its diversified economy – the Russian budget uses US$40/b oil prices as a baseline, while Saudi Arabia needs a far higher US$85/b to balance its books. It is quite evident why Saudi Arabia has already seemingly whipped OPEC into extending the production deal beyond June. Russia has been far more reserved – perhaps worried about US crude encroaching on its market share – but Energy Minister Alexander Novak and the government is now seemingly onboard.
Part of this has to do with the macroeconomic environment. With the US extending its trade fracas with China and opening up several new fronts (with Mexico, India and Turkey, even if the Mexican tariff standoff blew over), the global economy is jittery. A recession or at least, a slowdown seems likely. And when the world economy slows down, the demand for oil slows down too. With the US pumping as much oil as it can, a return to wanton production risks oil prices crashing once again as they have done twice in the last decade. All the bluster Russia can muster fades if demand collapses – which is a zero sum game that benefits no one.
Also on the menu in Vienna is the thorny issue of Iran. Besieged by American sanctions and at odds with fellow OPEC members, Iran is crucial to any decision that will be made at the bi-annual meeting. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, has stated that Iran has no intention of departing the group despite ‘being treated like an enemy (by some members)’. No names were mentioned, but the targets were evident – Iran’s bitter rival Saudi Arabia, and its sidekicks the UAE and Kuwait. Saudi King Salman bin Abulaziz has recently accused Iran of being the ‘greatest threat’ to global oil supplies after suspected Iranian-backed attacks in infrastructure in the Persian Gulf. With such tensions in the air, the Iranian issue is one that cannot be avoided in Vienna and could scupper any potential deal if politics trumps economics within the group. In the meantime, global crude prices continue to fall; OPEC and OPEC+ have to capability to change this trend, but the question is: will it happen on June 25?
Expectations at the 176th OPEC Conference