Risks and Rewards for PE in LNG Exports
After the ban was lifted on oil and natural gas exports from the U.S., private equity started looking for opportunities amid global challenges
As the U.S. begins to export crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG)—following the lifting of an export ban in late 2015—the need for infrastructure, and the massive amount of capital and expertise required to build it, are attracting private equity investors.
Low oil and LNG prices are complicating those efforts, however, says Steve Sprenger, a valuation services principal at RSM US LLP.
“I don’t think there’s a huge question of the U.S. being a substantial world exporter, Sprenger says. “There’s a question of when it makes sense for the U.S. economy, making sure the infrastructure is there, and the market is there.
“The reality is, right now, given weaker prices and weaker demand, it’s a little tough.”
According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. currently has two LNG export terminals. One is in Alaska; the other in Louisiana. As of early August, 10 more had been approved, and six were already under construction. Canada has three approved LNG terminals awaiting construction. And there are also several LNG facilities proposed in both countries, but awaiting approval.
“A lot of infrastructure needs to be put into place to handle the exportable volumes,” says Sprenger. He notes that there are extensive pipelines in Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, but other areas don’t have the export infrastructure that’s needed.
“There are over 100 LNG facilities in the U.S., and the majority of terminals that are operational are designed from an import perspective, but we can leverage off the existing import terminals—they can be reconfigured. But that still requires a substantial amount of investment.”
Despite the lifting of the U.S. export ban and approval of terminals to move oil and gas out of the country, there are big challenges on the supply side, says Sprenger. More global capacity is coming online, with Australia—along with Qatar the world’s largest LNG exporter—beginning production of two additional facilities. With the U.S. and Canada jumping in, there’s greater risk of prolonging the supply glut.
Further clouding the picture, he said, are slowing Chinese and European economies and slackening demand from Japan and Korea.
A lot of PE firms in the midstream or upstream space are going to factor oil and LNG exports in their investment plans, says Sprenger. However, he notes that there are likely few firms currently investing in LNG terminal construction. “The capital is pretty substantial, billions of dollars,” he explains, “but there are opportunities there.”