Qatar is home to over 14% of the world's natural gas reserves, which gives the country a unique position in the supply chain of natural gas and its byproducts such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and condensates. However, Qatar's geography and the political dynamics of the region diminish the feasibility of far-reaching pipeline projects, including the proposed Qatar–Turkey pipeline, which leaves Qatar with only one option: turning natural gas into liquid and exporting it using tanker ships.
Most of Qatar's natural gas output makes its way to the global market in the form of LNG, making the country the world's leading exporter of liquified gas products. This, however, would not have been possible without continuous investment in the sector, including the construction of 14 liquefaction mega trains between 1999 and 2011. Lying at the heart of any LNG plant, a liquefaction train is where natural gas is purified and then turned into liquid form by compression or refrigeration.
Qatar's LNG industry is still expanding. A major expansion program was announced by Qatar Petroleum (QP) in 2017, which at the time consisted of three liquefaction trains. Now, QP is adding a fourth LNG train to its ambitious expansion program, raising the company's output by over 40% to 110 million tons per annum.
In addition to copious quantities of LNG, the fourth train will simultaneously generate some 11,000 tons of LPG, 4,000 tons of ethane, and around 20 tons of helium each day, along with 260,000 barrels of condensates.
As the latest appraisals of the North Dome field indicate higher reserves of natural gas than previously believed, ramping up the country's output by adding another liquefaction facility will not only solidify Qatar's lead in the global market, but also make the production of LNG and condensates more cost effective, due in part to the economies of scale at play.
In April 2019, QP issued a tender for the construction of the four LNG mega trains, inviting a number of reputable international players to bid. The state-owned Qatari company will award the winner an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract.
Pundits believe QP and the larger Qatari oil and gas industry see this tender as an opportunity to form partnerships with international players. Thus far, three different consortiums comprised of a mix of Asian and Western companies are in the race; they include the Japanese oil and gas engineering giants, Chiyoda Corporation and JGC Corporation, South Korea's Hyundai, and European companies such as Technip from France and Saipem from Italy, among others.
Indeed, some of the aforesaid companies already have a presence in Qatar. Junji Nagasaka, managing director of Chiyoda Almana (the local subsidiary of Chiyoda in Qatar), says, “As we have strength in LNG, Qatargas is one of our primary customers, and QP and its associated companies have many other facilities that we provide services for."
If all goes according to plan, the contract will be awarded to the winning consortium sometime in 2020, with the hope that the mega trains will go online in 2023. However, megaprojects of this scale rarely go exactly according to plan from start to finish, not least due to market fluctuations, which may necessitate alternative arrangements.
On the plus side, however, the global LNG market has been in a good state since the launching of QP's ambitious plan for the expansion of its infrastructure, with forecasts predicting a robust demand for LNG and condensates in the foreseeable future, especially from China and the EU.