* $10 bln vessel being built to ferry Australia gas to Asia
* Shell also mulling mammoth LNG projects in Indonesia, U.S.
By Sarah Young
LONDON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s biggest LNG company, will move the headquarters of its integrated gas business to Singapore from Europe as part of its quest to feed Asia’s surging demand for the fuel, the company said on Wednesday.
“It will be the largest object man has ever built that floats,” Shell’s upstream director Andrew Brown said of Prelude, a 500 metre long vessel costing over $10 billion, being constructed to supply Asian markets with gas from Australia.
“I think this really demonstrates where we see ... the growth of the gas market. The growth of the integrated gas business will be Asia-based,” Brown told reporters at a briefing.
The headquarters of the integrated gas business, which includes all Shell’s gas and LNG projects outside of North America, will move to Singapore once it has received approvals from staff councils, Brown said.
The company is mulling more mammoth LNG projects akin to the Prelude development, not only in Australia, but also Indonesia and the U.S., Brown said, and is considering projects which could almost double its current capacity to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG).
LNG, a cooled form of the gas, allows the resource to be shipped far from the rocks in which it is found, often to Asian markets where there is strong demand and it fetches a higher price.
Shell, whose total production is split 50-50 between gas and oil - a balance which Brown said the company would maintain, is the world’s biggest LNG company by annual tonnage, with 22 million tonnes per year currently onstream, putting it ahead of its next biggest rivals Exxon, BP, Total and BG.
Forecasting soaring Asian gas demand in the coming decades, Brown said other regions would step up to supply Asian markets with LNG, adding to the current limited number of exporters.
“The next big wave will be North America and East Africa,” he said.
Shell has already positioned itself to play a role in planned projects to turn the U.S. and Canada into exporters of LNG but so far does not have exposure to East Africa, after a failed attempt to buy Mozambique-focused company Cove Energy earlier this year.
Shale gas production in the U.S. has unlocked huge supplies of the resource leading to a collapse in gas prices there, and the export of LNG will mark a turnaround for a country where a decade ago LNG import terminals were being built.
Some experts have said the advent of U.S. LNG exports to Asia could undercut exports from more expensive LNG projects in Australia, concerns partly shrugged off by Brown.
“Going forward floating LNG in that region (Australia) will compete favourably with LNG exported from the U.S.,” he said.
Noting the rising price tags of some LNG projects in Australia, such as the Gorgon project in which Shell has a stake, Brown said floating LNG projects such as Prelude, where the associated infrastructure is on a vessel rather than land, was one way to contain costs.