(EnergyAsia, March 22 2013, Friday) — Liquefied natural gas (LNG) will become Australia’s second-largest export earner after iron ore, rising more than five times from A$12 billion in 2011 to over A$61 billion by 2017, said the Bureau for Resources and Energy Economics (BREE). (US$1=A$0.96).

The start-up of several LNG projects in coming years will enable Australia to lift exports from 19 million tons to 88 million tons over the same period. Boosted by last year’s start-up of Woodside Petroleum’s Pluto project, the country’s largest, LNG exports have now risen to about 24 million tonnes.

Woodside is working to start-up its next LNG project at Browse, also located in Western Australia state.

Gladstone in Queensland state is home to three separate consortia building the Australia Pacific LNG (APLNG) plant, the Santos Limited-led project and the BG-owned Curtis Island LNG complex. The latter two will develop and process coal seam gas (CSG) into LNG for export to Asia.

Japan’s Inpex expects to start up its giant US$34-billion Ichthys LNG project near Darwin in the Northern Territory in 2017. Shell is developing a floating LNG terminal while Chevron is targeting to begin LNG production at its Gorgon and Wheatstone projects in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

For the current year ending June 30 2013, LNG’s rise will not be enough to arrest the near-term 3% decline in the value of Australia’s commodity export earnings to around A$186-billion.

BREE’s executive director and chief economist Quentin Grafton attributed this expected decline to a fall in commodity prices and the strong Australian dollar, which has been holding well above the US dollar for more than two years.

“The nominal value of mineral exports is projected to increase by about 15 per cent from 2011-12 to 2017-18, but the real value of mineral exports in Australian dollars is expected to peak in 2014-15 at around $123 billion” said Mr Grafton.

“The assumed continuation of a high-valued Australian dollar and a fall in the US dollar price of iron ore over the outlook period are the principal causes of this dip in the real export values of minerals from 2014-15.”