Freeport LNG CEO Michael Smith gives mixed message on US second wave plant buildout

Thursday, 13 February 2020
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Freeport LNG Chief Executive Michael Smith said he was hopeful of signing sufficient deals with buyers as the Quintana Island facility in Texas slowly expands, though suggested the second wave of plants may face difficulties 

However, Smith stated in an interview with pricing agency S&P Global Platts that the market had completely changed in 2019.

The Freeport project comprises four Train in all and the plant shipped its first cargo from the second liquefaction Train in mid-December 2019.

The cited a list of challenges, including record low prices and weaker than expected demand in Asia, oversupply concerns and the recent coronavirus outbreak in China.

He said this had created a perfect storm of headwinds for producers looking to construct new liquefaction plants or additional processing Trains.

“I don't think there's going to be a lot,” Smith said of additional sanctioned US capacity. 

“The margins for everyone have come down,” he stated.

More than a dozen US developers are pursuing projects for new plants or additional production capacity and have yet to announce positive final investment decisions.

The first phase construction at Freeport will see the building of one more Train, bringing to total to three and 15 million tonnes per annum of output.

The original Freeport terminal was completed in 2008 as an import facility with one berth and two storage tanks, each of 160,000 cubic metres capacity.

A second loading berth and a 165,000 cubic metres capacity full containment LNG storage tank have been added. The Train 4 project will be the second phase of construction.

“We don't have anything signed up. Until we do have something signed, no one is going to hear from us,” said Smith about the Train 4 project at his Texas plant.

Freeport's current target is for a final investment decision on Train 4 by mid-2020 and a start-up scheduled for 2024.

“We believe once we have the requisite capacity sold to reach our financing hurdles, we can close a transaction within a six-week time period, eight on the outside,” explained the CEO.

Smith declined in the interview with S&P Global to specify what range of prices Freeport was discussing with prospective buyers, though he said it was similar to the deals announced by other developers.

“We don't believe we are wasting our time,” said Smith. However, he stated that circumstances had changed since the first wave buildout of the six US plants currently operating. 

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