Exelon Corp., operator of the largest U.S. network of nuclear power stations, has acquired a company that plans to export natural gas from the shale boom.
The company bought a 96 percent stake in Annova LNG, a startup in the early stages of building a $1.3 billion liquefied natural gas-export terminal in Brownsville, Texas, David Chung, founder of Annova and now an Exelon vice president, said in an interview today. Chung, who retains a minority stake in Annova, oversees Chicago-based Exelon’s liquefied natural gas business.
The company is one of more than two dozen in the U.S. proposing to build facilities that refrigerate gas to shrink it to 1/600th of its normal volume so booming output can be shipped overseas in tankers. Unlike most of the other projects, which seek to transport LNG aboard huge ocean-going vessels, the Annova complex will sell the fuel in smaller quantities to customers that lack the port facilities to handle large tankers.
Black & Veatch Corp. is performing preliminary design and engineering work for the Gulf Coast plant, which is scheduled to begin operation in early 2019, according to Annova’s website. Chung declined to give a cost estimate for the project, which would ship 2 million tons of gas annually to customers in countries that have free-trade agreements with the U.S.
Eventually, the plant could triple in size to 6 million tons a year, Chung said. Exelon plans to buy gas from the Eagle Ford shale formation in south Texas as well as from the interstate pipeline system to supply the Annova facility.
The company is “looking at many opportunities” and may branch out into other gas export developments, said Chung, who formerly helped oversee global LNG marketing at Macquarie Group Ltd. and founded Annova last year.
Utilities, chemical makers and fuel brokers around the world are clamoring for access to U.S. gas supplies that are a fraction of the cost of fuel from other nations after shale-drilling innovations glutted the domestic market.
For Exelon, which also distributes power from gas-fired generators, a rally in the U.S. gas market would be a boon because electricity prices move in tandem with the fuel. The company said in October that LNG exports as well as expanding industrial and power plant demand for gas, will help keep prices between $4 and $6 per million British thermal units between 2017 and 2020.
Gas futures prices have averaged $4.622 per million Btu on the New York Mercantile Exchange this year.