Sempra's Mexico LNG plant to open in 2nd quarter

MEXICO CITY, March 19 (Reuters) - Sempra Energy's SRE.N new liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal on Mexico's Pacific coast should be up and running during the second quarter, the California-based company said on Wednesday.

Mexico’s second LNG terminal, the so-called Energia Costa Azul import and regasification plant being built near the town of Ensenada in Baja California, will have processing capacity of 1.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of natural gas.

Roughly half the LNG -- natural gas cooled to a liquid state for easy shipping -- is expected to supply the Mexican market, with half exported to the United States.

“It’s slated for construction completion and commercial operations start-up in the second quarter,” a Sempra Energy spokesman said.

“The project would be commercially operational at that point,” he said, adding that the company already had contracted LNG cargoes to arrive at the facility.

The terminal is costing around $945 million and Sempra plans to expand its capacity to around 2.5 bcfd at a later date, after Chevron Corp. CVX.N axed plans for a rival LNG plant at a nearby site in Mexico.

Mexico, a net importer of natural gas despite being a major crude oil producer, began importing LNG in 2006 via a Shell-led RDSa.L terminal at Altamira on the Gulf of Mexico coast.

By 2012 a third LNG terminal should be open at Manzanillo, further south on the Pacific coast. which Spain’s Repsol YPF will supply it with gas from its Camisea field in Peru.

LNG is a cheaper alternative for Mexico than U.S. natural gas imported by pipeline. The energy ministry hopes the country will import 1.5 bcfd of LNG by 2016 from the three terminals. It also is looking at three other possible sites for future LNG terminals. (Reporting by Catherine Bremer; Editing by David Gregorio)