SYDNEY Dec 12 (Reuters) - BHP Billiton said on Wednesday it is selling its interest in the troubled Browse liquefied natural gas project to PetroChina International Investment (Australia) Pty Ltd for $1.63 billion.
Browse LNG has been plagued by controversy over its proposed location at James Price Point on the northwestern coast of Australia, which has been opposed by some project partners, environmentalists and Aboriginal landowners.
BHP is the second joint venture partner to exit the $30 billion project after Chevron agreed an asset swap deal in August that increased the stake held by Royal Dutch Shell Plc .
The other partners are operator and majority shareholder Woodside Petroleum, BP, Japan's Mitsui & Co and Mitsubishi Corp.
Woodside is scheduled to make a decision on whether to go forward with the James Price Point location by mid-2013.
The Browse Joint Venture participants hold a right to match the offer from PetroChina.
BHP said the deal is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to be completed in the first half of next year.
"This is an excellent opportunity for both companies," BHP's petroleum division chief Michael Yeager said in a statement. "PetroChina has acquired an interest in a world class gas resource and BHP Billiton has exited a non-strategic asset."
Australia, which is expected to surpass Qatar as the top LNG exporter by the end of the decade, has more than $170 billion worth of LNG export projects under construction.