SARAH THOMPSON, ANTHONY MACDONALD
& JOYCE MOULLAKIS | Australian Financial Review
SYDNEY - Key project debt lenders have been giving their passports and travel insurers a workout as they troop up to Papua New Guinea to get to grips with what could be the region's biggest financing since the record $US20 billion deal for Ichthys LNG.
While the final configuration of the next stage of LNG expansion in PNG is yet to be settled, those behind the circa $US17 billion project - primarily ExxonMobil, Total and Oil Search - are already well advanced in considering funding.
A large project finance facility is understood to be the favoured option, building on the experience of the $US14 billion funding for the initial PNG LNG project.
Oil Search is understood to have hosted a number of local project finance bankers to PNG in recent weeks, with several testing the lay of the land again last week at a petroleum conference in Port Moresby, which also attracted a host of engineering contractors vying for a piece of the action.
Appetite from the main Australian banks is understood to be strong, although could be tempered by some being close to fully allocated in their exposure to PNG.
The country's sovereign credit rating has slipped a notch since the initial deal amid soft commodity prices, weak governance and ongoing political and security risks.
Still, export credit agencies are again expected to be well in evidence, while the backing of two oil majors and the sheer size of the project count in favour of commercial lender interest.
Also supportive is the outperformance of the initial LNG project, and expected robust economics and sturdy customer support for the brownfield expansion despite the oversupply due to plague the LNG market later this decade.
A firmer idea of how the expansion will look, including the split of feedstock supply between the Elk-Antelope, P'nyang and other gas fields, the capacity size and the ownership structure, is expected by early 2018.
Yet to be figured out is how the cash-strapped PNG government will fund its expected involvement down the track.