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Business

Qatar unfreezes development of massive gas field

Mideast nation moves to defend lead in global LNG exports

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Qatar is resuming development of one of the world's biggest offshore natural gas fields as new suppliers threaten the Middle Eastern country's position as the top global LNG exporter.

The new activity in the so-called North Field, located in the Persian Gulf, could mean fresh business opportunities for plant builders and other companies in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

State-run Qatar Petroleum will begin to develop a new gas project in the southern end of the field, where the country froze such activity in 2005 to assess the impact of rapid development on the gas reserves there.

"Now is a good time to lift the moratorium," QP CEO Saad Sherida al-Kaabi told reporters Monday in Doha, according to Reuters and other news outlets.

QP expects production at the new project to begin in five to seven years, al-Kaabi said. The development is seen adding 15 million tons of liquefied natural gas to Qatar's current annual export capacity of 77 million tons.

North Field is part of a gas field whose other side Iran calls South Pars. The Islamic republic has increased output there at a rapid pace to meet the energy needs of a burgeoning population. National Iranian Oil Co. and French energy group Total reached an agreement last November on development in South Pars.

The new Qatari project is located in the section of North Field farthest away from South Pars.

Competition among global LNG suppliers has heated up as significant new producers, notably Australia and the U.S., have entered what was once a seller's market. Spot LNG, which is priced off crude oil, has fallen considerably from its peak. Australia is forecast to soon overtake Qatar as the world's largest LNG exporter.

QP has been retooling its organization from production to delivery, a process that has included last year's move to merge two production units. It appears to be trying to retain market share by doubling down on its low-cost advantage.

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