The International Energy Agency predicts that global LNG trade is expected to reach 585 billion cubic metres per year by 2025, an increase of 21% compared to 2019. North America is cited as being responsible for almost 80% of LNG export growth with most of the residual falling to Africa.
This forecast for Africa is sourced from projects under development in Mozambique (Mozambique LNG and Coral Sul FLNG), a cross-border offshore project in Mauritania and Senegal (Tortue FLNG) and capacity expansion in Nigeria (NLNG Train 7). Progress has however been slower than predicted a few years ago – significantly due to fluctuating liquified natural gas (LNG) prices, but political instability, terrorism, rising government expenditure and arduous regulations are also all contributing factors. This article looks at the progress of each of the referenced projects, their associated challenges and opportunities for LNG projects in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Total’s 12.88 mtpa Mozambique LNG project promises to contribute tremendously to Africa’s LNG export volumes when commercial production commences. Despite the pandemic, a record project financing for Africa of close to US$15 billion (three-quarters of the total US$20 billion project investment) was announced in July 2020, indicating strong investor confidence in long-term prospects for Mozambique. Indeed, Mozambique’s geographical location is prime to export LNG globally.
April of this year saw the project suffer a major setback when Total withdrew its personnel from the Afungi Peninsula site in response to the increasingly fragile security situation resulting from escalating attacks by Islamic insurgents in the Cabo Delgado Province. Construction is currently suspended and Total has indicated that the project may be delayed by at least one year (the first LNG cargo from the project was originally anticipated to be delivered in 2024).
The US$30 billion Rovuma LNG project, operated by ExxonMobil, is also located on the Afungi Peninsula. A final investment decision (FID) on Rovuma LNG was initially due to take place in late 2019 but in early March of this year such decision was delayed for a third time. Although attributed to low oil prices, some commentators have questioned whether the current security situation will result in further delays.
Coral Sul FLNG
In contrast to the difficulties of the onshore projects of Mozambique LNG and Rovuma LNG, the Eni operated 3.4 mtpa offshore Coral Sul floating LNG (FLNG) development is reportedly on track for start-up in 2022. If achieved, this would make it the first LNG project in Mozambique to begin operations and the fifth FLNG facility in operation globally.
Smaller in scale than onshore plants, FLNG can commercialise small-to-medium gas reserves with lower capital investment and faster construction time leading to earlier production and returns. In Africa, FLNG is considered attractive to satisfy the needs of LNG traders and small LNG-to-power projects domestically as well as in international markets. LNG produced from the Coral Sul FLNG will be sold to BP under a 20-year contract with the option to extend for 10 years.
The provision of financing and technological knowledge from the right sponsors and partners is key to enabling FLNG projects to be bankable – and can be problematic. Local content requirements are also often challenging because vessel construction (or conversion) is carried out in foreign shipyards (whereas onshore facilities are constructed using local labour and resources). Eni has implemented various entrepreneurship and vocational training initiatives to reach its local content goals and has trained over 800 Mozambicans for specialised plant operations at Coral Sul.
Another FLNG facility under construction is Golar’s Gimi (which being converted from a traditional LNG carrier) to be used in BP’s 2.5 mtpa Greater Tortue Ahmeyim project on the maritime border of Mauritania and Senegal. Production from Tortue is destined to global markets as well as for domestic use in both Mauritania and Senegal. FID for the first phase of the project was made in late 2018 however a revised project schedule was announced by BP in October 2020. This followed BP’s force majeure notice to Golar resulting from the impacts of the pandemic. BP and other project partners have stressed that the revised schedule results from a need to maintain project economics considering the inevitable impact of the pandemic and other factors. First gas was initially scheduled for 2022, however this is expected to be delayed by up to twelve months.
Nigeria NLNG – Train 7
Late 2019 saw Nigeria LNG Ltd. (NLNG) take FID for its seventh liquefaction train (Train 7) at its Bonny Island liquefaction plant. Train 7 is expected to increase capacity of the plant by 8 mtpa giving an overall plant capacity of 30 mtpa. This boost to Nigeria’s LNG output is regarded as crucial for the country’s economic recovery from the pandemic and its long-term economic stability. Having shipped its first cargo in 1999, NLNG’s continued success is credited to the expansion of production capacity over time allowing steady (and substantial) growth in turnover. Until the September 2020 signing of a US$3 billion multi-sourced corporate loan to finance the construction of Train 7, NLNG was essentially debt-free. This significant financing signals that projects with robust operational and financial records can continue to attract financing even in the most testing of markets.
An increase in African LNG exports may stimulate the development of the gas market in Sub-Saharan Africa. To date, offtake from African LNG projects has largely been sold into the international market. However, with increasing production volumes and the clear economic benefits of shorter shipping distances, LNG produced in Africa may be used to fuel power generation and support industrialisation in Sub-Saharan Africa.
For example, Eskom, the South African energy utility, has long held ambitions to develop gas to power projects in South Africa. Availability of African-sourced LNG should increase the number of sellers prepared to sell LNG into South Africa, improve the LNG supply terms that sellers are prepared to offer to Eskom or project developers (including regarding quantity flexibility) and improve the pricing of LNG.
Africa clearly has enormous potential to continue to grow its presence in the international LNG market. The success of proposed projects requires collaboration between operators, suppliers and governments to ensure that financial and increasing regulatory requirements, as well as social and political issues, do not create barriers to much needed investment.
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