Woodside laments Israel loss, despite war

Woodside laments Israel loss, despite war

The last-minute dropout on buying a portion of the Leviathan gas field was unavoidable -- but still regrettable, the company says

An aerial view of an Israeli offshore gas rig (Albatross Aerial photography/Noble Energy/Flash90/File)
An aerial view of an Israeli offshore gas rig (Albatross Aerial photography/Noble Energy/Flash90/File)

As some investors breathe a sigh of relief that Australia’s largest oil and gas company is out of conflict-affected Israel, chief executive Peter Coleman is working furiously to secure a growth project, potentially in Canada or Africa.

Woodside isn’t short of a dollar at the moment, with healthy cash flows from its West Australian assets.

But the company needs to embark on a solid project where the economics stack up.

Chairman Michael Chaney says despite some caution around projections and prices, major international companies are eager to spend money.

“Capital is valuable and what we want new management to do is go out and find investments where the numbers add up, where we beat our hurdle rate and we get a good return,” Dr Chaney told a business lunch in Perth this week.

“The problem is finding those investments.

“We can always find the capital if you find it.”

In May, Woodside abandoned its $US2.7 billion Leviathan gas deal in Israel, one of only two major long-term growth prospects for the company, with the other being Browse in Western Australia.

Dr Chaney said Woodside’s recent attempt to invest in Israel had begun with an in-principle agreement in which the Perth-based company had said: “yes we’ll enter the venture on these terms”.

“Then as time went by, before we finalized it, we got chipped away, chipped away, chipped away both in the tax arrangements and also in the joint venture arrangements to the point where the numbers didn’t add up and we just said okay we’re not doing it,” Dr Chaney said.

“We would have loved to have done and the same goes for James Price Point.”

Woodside last year shelved its onshore gas option for the Browse project at James Price Point in Western Australia and instead decided to spend billions of dollars on floating LNG.

“The economics just weren’t acceptable at the end of the day,” Dr Chaney said.

“Time will tell.”

Royal Bank of Canada analyst Andrew Williams said Woodside now had an opportunity in Canada where it has a land access agreement to conduct feasibility studies to build an LNG export facility on the northwest coast.

“They’ve recently filed an application with the National Energy Board so it looks like it’s progressing and they’re looking at Africa and making a big push in deep water exploration,” Mr Williams said.

He believes the company decided to pull out of Israel based on the economics rather than security.

“Israel and the Middle East is always going to be one of those areas that comes with more than the average amount of sovereign risk,” Mr Williams said.

“They’d be happy to be anywhere they can get the economics to work.”

Next Friday Woodside shareholders will vote on whether the company will spend $2.68 billion to get Royal Dutch Shell off its share register in a deal to buy back 78.3 million of its shares – or 9.5 per cent of the company.

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