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png/australia gas pipeline

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    Source: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2003/s862743.htm

    PNG/Australia gas pipeline: Somare accidentally names customer PRINT FRIENDLY EMAIL STORY
    PM - Friday, 23 May , 2003 18:44:00
    Reporter: Shane McLeod
    MARK COLVIN: The Government of Papua New Guinea may have let the cat out of the bag in sensitive dealings over the long-proposed PNG to Australia gas pipeline. With frantic negotiations in train to sign up enough end users for the long-mooted project, PNG's Prime Minister has revealed the name of one of the likely customers.

    And as Shane McLeod reports, those close to the project aren't too happy at the timing of the comments.

    SHANE MCLEOD: Who can blame PNG's politicians for being a little excited that the long-running saga of the Gas to Australia project might be about to have a happy ending?

    The multi-billion dollar idea has been seriously talked about since the mid-90s, yet the likelihood of it coming to fruition has inflated and then deflated, raising expectations in a country in a depressing financial state.

    Right now, things seem to be in an 'up' phase, with operator Exxon Mobil in negotiations to try to lock in enough customers to make the first stage of the project feasible.

    And when Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare arrived back in Port Moresby from Brisbane last night, his excitement was palpable.

    SIR MICHAEL SOMARE: There is a good possibility of finalising the date by some time at the end of this month, and hopefully next week when Comalco makes an announcement, we will know.

    SHANE MCLEOD: Mentioning the prospective customer seemed to be a slip of the tongue for the PM, but he wasn't the only one to let the Aluminium producer's name slip.

    The man rapidly becoming known as PNG's Mr Fixit, Energy Minister Sir Moi Avei, travelled with the PM to Brisbane.

    SIR MOI AVEI: I think over the next 48 hours there will be a statement from Comalco and other bodies who have now committed themselves to the project. This is the closest we have got to project. We will need to focus on one more customer to get this across the line.

    SHANE MCLEOD: That Comalco is a likely customer for PNG gas won't come as a complete shock, and that it's close to making an announcement is probably even less so. But those close to the gas project are privately frustrated that at such as delicate stage of negotiations, PNG isn't able to keep its mouth shut.

    Comalco says it's common knowledge that it's been in discussions for some time regarding a number of energy options for its new alumina refinery in Gladstone.

    Exxon Mobil says it's always trying to lock in customers for the gas project. Neither company was prepared to say whether any announcement is imminent. Pressed further last night, Sir Moi Avei decided saying less was appropriate.

    SIR MOI AVEI: You know who we are talking about.

    [Audience laughter]

    But, I guess because of commercial sensitivities, I think it would be prudent if we didn’t mention anything here. But everybody's out there from Federal Government, State Government, to, as the Prime Minister's already mentioned, Comalco, so it's public knowledge. Everybody in [inaudible] knows who we're dealing with.

    SHANE MCLEOD: But who can blame PNG for being a bit excited? With the Government seemingly in a perpetual state of financial crisis, the gas project would be a significant and ongoing source of much needed revenue.

    Perhaps for the first time since the Bougainville copper mine was forced to close, the Government could start to think of a brighter economic future. Yet there also those who believe gas revenues could make for more problems in PNG's future.

    They're the ones who believe successive governments have failed to learn the lesson of having to live within their means. Whether that can even become an issue may be known within the next day or so.

    In Port Moresby, Shane McLeod reporting for PM.


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