Venture Global LNG to buy fleet of vessels

(Reuters) - Venture Global LNG said it would acquire a fleet of nine LNG transport vessels, expanding its ability to sell and ship its own cargoes.

Venture Global has exported hundreds of cargoes since it started liquefying gas for export in 2022 from the first of its three planned facilities in Louisiana. The vessels it used were owned by other companies and leased.

The nine vessels in Venture Global's future fleet will be built in South Korea with the first to be delivered later this year, the Arlington, Virginia-based company said.

The company has shipped more than 250 cargoes under its own account from the first plant, called Calcasieu Pass, sparking complaints from big-name energy companies holding long-term contracts that the sales should have been made available to them.

Venture Global says despite the shipments, the Calcasieu Pass plant has yet to start full commercial operations due to equipment malfunctions. Its contracts allow it to decide when the plant is fully operational.

The company hopes to complete the commissioning of the plant by the end of the year, CEO Mike Sabel told reporters gathered at Venture Global's Houston offices on Sunday. Repairs were going well, he said.

The plant does not have redundant power systems and the potential for outages has kept it from moving to commercial operation, he said.

But customers including BP, Shell, Edison, Repsol, Galp Energia, Unipec and Orlen say they have lost billions of dollars in revenue. They have initiated arbitration proceedings against Venture Global and have pressed federal regulators to allow them to view confidential documents on the plant's startup.

Shell on Sunday declined to comment on Venture Global's latest move to bolster its sales. Shell previously said Venture Global's sales of Calcasieu plant LNG cargoes without providing them to contract customers was deceitful.

Spanish energy giant Repsol has asked U.S. regulators to review the plant's commissioning process.

The shipping fleet, along with a deal Venture Global has for the long-term use of an import terminal to regasify its cargoes in Europe, would give the company a bigger role in the global supply chain for its LNG, the company said.

The second phase of Calcasieu Pass could start producing LNG in 2026 if it gets regulatory approval soon, Sabel said on Sunday. The plant would have capacity to produce 20 million metric tons per annum (mtpa), much of which the company has already sold through 20-year sales and purchase agreements.

The first two production trains at the plant could be completed within 10 months, Sabel said.

The company is planning another LNG project at Plaquemines, also in Louisiana. The completion of that project would give Venture Global more capacity than Shell, BP or Exxon, Sabel said.

Venture Global does not expect to sell 100% of future liquefaction capacity, with plans to trade the excess, Sabel added.

If a pause by the U.S. government on approving new LNG projects announced in January is prolonged, it would drive up the global cost of the fuel, Sabel said.

If the pause becomes permanent, Venture Global will invest in plants in other parts of the world, said Sabel.

"We will look for opportunities to develop liquefaction facilities outside the U.S.," Sabel told journalists.

A recent fall in LNG prices is driving higher demand for cargoes from Europe, he added.

Sabel also said the company was not interested in any mergers nor partners since money was not a problem and the focus was on continued expansion.

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