By Narayanan Somasundaram and Tom Bergin
SYDNEY/LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - UK gas producer BG Group is mulling the sale of a stake in its multi-billion dollar Queensland natural gas liquefaction facilities, sources close to the matter said, potentially paving the way for a restructuring of the region’s LNG business.
BG could sell between 15 and 20 percent of the Queensland Curtis LNG project (QCLNG) and, based on past transactions, could raise up to $2 billion from the sale, one source said.
The cash would be reinvested in more profitable oil and gas exploration and production activities.
BG is one of a number of companies including Santos, Origin Energy and a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and and PetroChina, which are developing plans to build LNG plants around Gladstone in Queensland.
The companies have bought huge swathes of land with deep coal seams from which gas can be extracted and frozen into LNG.
BG’s $15 billion Queensland Curtis Island LNG project is the most advanced with an expected start-up in 2014.
Some analysts have suggested the companies could co-operate in the planned expansion of the export facilities over time -- something that may be facilitated if a rival bought into QCLNG.
BG owns 93.75 percent of the two liquefaction units, or ‘trains’, being built at QCLNG. It is also eyeing further expansion.
Analysts expected a sell-down as the group usually holds a lower percentage of the gas liquefaction facilities it operates.
BG has sold small stakes to China’s CNOOC and Japanese utility Tokyo Gas, in addition to stakes in its Queensland coal seam gas assets. Coal seam gas is also known as coal bed methane.
The liquefaction facilities usually work on a tolling basis and so earn low, but steady, utility-type returns.
For example, BG’s liquefaction unit, which operates facilities around the world, made $314 million last year, while the marketing and trading of LNG earned the UK group $2.4 billion.
Since the assets are not especially lucrative, interests in them are often sold as part of a broader deal involving a stake in the upstream oil and gas fields that feed them, suggesting BG could sell a stake in its upstream assets too.
A BG spokesman said: “We keep all assets in our global portfolio under review.”