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Cheniere wins big as majors put US LNG projects on back burner, Bernstein says


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Cheniere wins big as majors put US LNG projects on back burner, Bernstein says

U.S. LNG export pioneer Cheniere Energy Inc. stands to gain market share amid delays for two major projects under construction and a lack of action by super-majors on their Gulf Coast LNG ventures, asset management firm Sanford C. Bernstein Co. LLC said.

The Freeport facility under construction in Texas and the Sempra Energy-led Cameron terminal being built in Louisiana have plans for expansions. Construction delays mean the developers are unlikely to grow those projects until the initial liquefaction trains enter service in 2019, Bernstein analysts said in a March 29 note. With both the Royal Dutch Shell PLC-backed Lake Charles and Exxon Mobil Corp.-backed Golden Pass LNG export projects still awaiting final investment decisions, the analysts said the majors appear to have put their U.S. LNG plans "lower in their option stack."

That should benefit Cheniere, which already has one LNG export terminal in operation in Louisiana and a second under construction in Texas. Between the two, Cheniere has two additional liquefaction trains that are fully permitted but missing final investment decisions as well as an expansion plan that needs federal authorization.

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"We believe that Cheniere is poised to take further market share from other less experienced LNG producers in the U.S., especially after the Lake Charles and Golden Pass ventures have been put on the back burner by their developers," Bernstein said.

Dominion Energy Inc. recently joined Cheniere in exporting U.S. LNG after the first cargo left the Cove Point terminal March 1. Along with Cove Point in Maryland and Cheniere's Sabine Pass in Louisiana, four other LNG export projects are expected to bring total U.S. export capacity to 9.6 Bcf/d by the end of 2019.

Beyond those projects, no other U.S. LNG export capacity has received the go-ahead. Companies and analysts are now warning of a looming LNG shortage in the early to mid-2020s unless new projects move forward.

A long list of developers is seeking to do that, but with buyers reluctant to sign the long-term contracts that allow multibillion-dollar export projects to receive financing, some ventures have stalled. In addition to Lake Charles and Golden Pass, two other projects have all major regulatory permits in hand but have not yet received a final investment decision. Bernstein said "smaller ventures" such as Tellurian Inc.'s Driftwood, LNG Ltd.'s Magnolia and NextDecade Corp.'s Rio Grande will likely struggle to get customers and financing.

Meanwhile, Cheniere recently signed agreements with buyers that the company said bring it closer to moving forward on a third train at its Corpus Christi terminal in Texas.

Two of those deals are with China, which Bernstein sees as having "the most interesting story" when it comes to future LNG contracts. Earlier in the week, the firm cautioned that while China could spur the "second wave" of U.S. LNG export capacity, "all bets are off" if trade relations with the country sour.

Still, Bernstein analysts said they see more deals with China coming. "While we have not yet seen a barrage of new [final investment decisions], we believe that strong demand from China has helped buyers back into the contracting fold, and that once a few deals are signed, others will rapidly follow."