DALLAS (AP) — Exxon Mobil is making a big bet on the future of exporting natural gas.
Exxon and Qatar Petroleum announced Tuesday that they will go ahead with a $10 billion project to export liquefied natural gas from a plant on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The companies said construction at the Golden Pass plant in Sabine Pass, Texas, would start before April, and the export operation is expected to begin running in 2024.
Exxon said the project will create 9,000 jobs during the five years of construction and more than 200 permanent jobs. Exxon Chairman and CEO Darren Woods said it would provide a long-term supply of liquefied natural gas and stimulate the local economy.
The Golden Pass plant opened in 2010 to import gas that has been chilled into liquid form, allowing it to be loaded on to tankers for shipment. Its backers saw a market in importing natural gas, a cleaner fuel than oil.
As U.S. gas production soared in this decade, however, with much of it coming from the Permian Basin in west Texas and New Mexico, Exxon and others studied ways to boost sales by using the suddenly abundant supply to meet surging global demand.
Globally, annual trade in liquefied gas grew faster than 10 percent in both 2017 and 2018, according to the International Energy Agency. Demand has been growing fastest in Asia, especially in China, but European countries are also interested in stepping up imports as a way to diversify their energy supply and reduce their reliance on Russian gas.
Trade in liquefied gas is expected to rise by more than two-thirds in the next 20 years, said Jean-Baptiste Dubreuil, an analyst with the Paris-based group.
"It will be instrumental in the evolution of natural gas toward a more diversified, flexible and global market," Dubreuil said.
The Texas project is expected to be the first of many similar announcements by energy companies this year. Dubreuil said others are expected to come from the U.S., Russia, Africa, and Qatar.
Exxon and Qatar Petroleum say the export facility in Texas will be able to produce about 16 million tons of liquefied gas per year.
Qatar Petroleum owns 70 percent of the export project and Exxon holds the other 30 percent after agreeing to buy out ConocoPhillips' 12.4 percent stake in the existing liquefied natural gas import terminal and pipeline. That purchase is awaiting regulatory approval.
Exxon and Qatar Petroleum have worked together on exploration and development projects in Argentina, Brazil and Mozambique. Qatar Petroleum, a leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, has announced plans to invest $20 billion in the U.S. as it seeks to continue expanding beyond its home borders.
At an event in Washington, Energy Secretary Rick Perry called the announcement "the latest example of the vital partnership between the U.S. and Qatar," including military ties and American colleges opening campuses in Qatar.
On Jan. 1, Qatar left OPEC after a nearly two-year trade embargo against it by the oil cartel's leader, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.
Shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. rose 76 cents to close at $75.58.