• Project forecast to help Australia become biggest LNG exporter
  • Gorgon development starting amid downturn in energy prices

The first liquefied natural gas shipment from Chevron Corp.’s $54 billion Gorgon project off northwest Australia, the largest resource development in the country’s history, is on its way to Japan.

The cargo of super-cooled gas is heading to Chubu Electric Power Co. and is being shipped aboard the Asia Excellence, one of Chevron’s new carriers, the San Ramon, Calif.-based company said on Monday. Chevron, which started producing the fuel on Barrow Island earlier this month, had expected to make the first shipment last week.

The project is starting in the worst energy slump in a generation and adding to a wave of new supply, including the first U.S. exports. A more than 60 percent drop in oil prices over the past two years is hurting LNG projects that have long-term contracts tied to crude.

Gorgon, whose partners include Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp., is forecast to help Australia overtake Qatar later this decade as the world’s largest exporter of LNG, gas that’s chilled to a liquid so that it can be transported by ship. Chubu Electric holds a less than 1 percent stake in the development.

The project’s cost ballooned from an estimate of $37 billion in 2009, when the companies decided to go ahead with the venture. The development is expected to reach full capacity at its three production facilities, known as trains, by the second half of 2017, the company said earlier this month.

Chevron is in the final stages of its largest shipbuilding and fleet modernization program in recent history, which includes the addition of six new LNG carriers, according to the statement.

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