Australia is set to overtake Qatar as the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by 2020, as the country steams ahead with nine planned world-scale LNG projects totaling 70 million metric tonnes per annum (mtpa), GE Oil & Gas's regional executive David Leslie said Wednesday.
Speaking at the inaugural Australian Gas Technology Conference & Exhibition at the Perth Convention Exhibition Centre, Leslie said that while the planned LNG projects will create a positive impact for Australia's economy in terms of demand for goods and services, they would also exacerbate the problem of skilled labor shortage in the LNG industry.
According to Leslie, Australia is suffering from a "dire shortage of skilled LNG labor."
The factor driving the demand for skilled LNG manpower is the two-pronged – the number of people needed to construct and operate the planned world-scale LNG facilities and the complexity of skill sets associated with constructing world-scale LNG trains.
Leslie uses the comparison between the Karratha Gas Plant (KGP) and Gorgon LNG (GLNG) projects to prove his point.
The KGP project started up in 1999 with two compression trains that could in total produce 5 million metric tonnes per annum (mtpa) of LNG. The project was at that time hailed as "the largest resource development in Australia's history." Between 1999 and 2008, the KGP added a third 2.5 million mtpa compression train, a fourth 4.4 million mtpa compression train and a fifth 7.4 million mtpa compression train. The KGP at present has an annual LNG production of 16.3 million mtpa.
In contrast, the GLNG project which is slated for start-up in 2014 will commence operations with three five million mtpa LNG compression trains.
"We are now in a different league from 20 years ago," Leslie remarked.
Data provided by Leslie also shows that employer-sponsored (457) visas have skyrocketed from 2,260 in 2003/04 to 7,940 in 2010/11. The figure, said Leslie, is set to rise in the near-term.
GE Oil and Gas is however not a company that will remain stumped by challenges thrown onto its path. The company is at present pursuing several initiatives which it views as routes that could alleviate Australia's skilled LNG manpower shortage issue.
GE Oil and Gas manpower initiatives include working with schools to promote and chart career paths in the oil and gas industry, dishing out summer internship programs to transfer industry best practices from North America to Australia and providing flexible work packages for its women employees to increase skilled labor retention rates.
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