For Australia's energy industry, the past few years have been dominated by three potentially lucrative words: liquefied natural gas. Companies ranging from Origin Energy through Santos, Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search have captured eye-watering deals with customers in Asia to capitalise on unprecedented demand for the clean-burning fuel.
But if the last period was all about proving up reserves and finding customers for the end product, it's fair to say the next phase is all about the potentially more troublesome aspect of delivering these mega projects.
Five years ago that would have been almost all about engineering and construction risk and the tricky task of delivering technically challenging projects in excess of $10 billion to deadline.
That's still a big part of the picture in 2012. But one can't escape the feeling that it's probably now just one of a handful of issues to juggle for an industry which seems to spend more time defending its actions than celebrating its achievements.
Investment bank Citi forecasts the contribution of LNG capital spending to GDP growth in the first four years of this decade is 2 percentage points or more than 12 per cent of projected GDP growth from 2010 through 2013. It's a remarkable growth story but for potential LNG producers these facts are unlikely to be trumpeted until the first gas ships from their respective projects.
The federal government has been seen as a strong promoter of the LNG industry but tension is now growing over whether it has prioritised lucrative export and tax dollars at the expense of local gas users.
Over the weekend mining giant Rio Tinto revealed it is having troubles finding sufficient gas contracts kicking in from 2015 to power its Queensland operations in large part due to the impact of the state's LNG export projects.
To be fair, the government is well aware of the issue.
Indeed it raised the point as part of its wide-reaching draft Energy White Paper released in December.
But it is also desperate for the added kick LNG will give to its tax coffers.
It is estimated the LNG industry will pitch in an additional $10 billion in corporate tax take by 2020 based on de-risked projects which could increase to $20 billion if all proposed projects get the green light.
The government is severely compromised by the relationship and it's perhaps little wonder the government deems policy intervention is currently unwarranted to try and achieve a better outcome for large domestic gas users.
Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has so far resisted calls by Dow Chemical chairman and chief executive Andrew Liveris to sway the argument in favour of manufacturers. It has been relatively easy for Ferguson to rule out what amounts to a subsidy for the ailing sector, suggesting instead that producers and consumers meet in the middle and slug out their differences.
But if Rio is joined by other major users in warning of its struggles to gain medium-term supply contracts, the minister faces a headache. There has been an expectation that plenty of domestic gas would flow from the sidelines of major LNG export deals into the Australian market. While it is early days to decipher how the local gas market will perform post-2015, it's hard to see energy producers turning down lucrative international LNG deals out of sympathy for local consumers.
Perry Williams is the Financial Review's resources editor firstname.lastname@example.org
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