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Update: Origin Open To Selling More Equity In Australia LNG

--Origin may cut equity share in Australia Pacific LNG from existing 37.5% --Decision on equity sale unlikely before FID decision on project expansion due by end-June --Analysts query Origin's ability to fund its share of any expansion (Adds project's progress in 6th paragraph, cost breakdown in 7th, project financing from 10th.) By David Winning Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES ADELAIDE (Dow Jones)-Origin Energy Ltd. (ORG.AU) is willing to sell more equity in an Australian gas-export venture that will supply customers in China and Japan, as it works toward tying down finance for an expansion that will push the cost of the development to as high as US$20 billion. "Certainly we'd contemplate some further dilution over the current" 37.5% interest that Origin owns in the Australia Pacific LNG project, Chief Executive Grant King told Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of a conference here. Any decision on an equity selldown is unlikely before the company decides whether to invest in a second liquefied natural gas, or LNG, processing unit at the plant being built at the port of Gladstone in Queensland state, he said. "We've not set a specific target," Mr. King added. Origin and partners ConocoPhillips (COP) and China Petrochemical Corp., known as Sinopec, are in the early stages of building the Australia Pacific LNG project that will produce as much as 8.6 million metric tons of LNG annually at its peak. This month, Origin said the project is 12% complete, and on course to produce its first LNG in 2015. The first phase of the project is estimated to cost US$14 billion, and Origin says expanding it to two processing units would cost a further US$6 billion. A decision by the joint-venture partners on whether to go ahead with the expansion is due before the end of next month. ConocoPhillips owns 37.5% of the Australia Pacific LNG project, with Sinopec owning the remaining 25%. However, analysts have increasingly questioned the ability of Origin--Australia's largest electricity retailer--to fund its share of the project's expansion. Macquarie analyst Matt Nacard last month estimated a funding gap of 800 million Australian dollars (US$802 million) after Origin's management decided not to underwrite a dividend reinvestment plan recently. Mr. King said efforts up to now have gone into securing a project finance package for the Australia Pacific LNG project, with the Export-Import Bank of the United States this month authorizing a US$2.95 billion loan, and credit agencies in China and commercial lenders also supporting the project. The US$2.95 billion loan is the U.S. Ex-Im's second-largest single-project financing in its history, and also its first LNG project in Australia, the bank said in a statement May 8. The Australia Pacific LNG project, which will ship 7.6 million tons of LNG to Sinopec and 1 million tons of LNG to Japan's Kansai Electric Power Co. annually at its peak, is one of four multibillion dollar terminals proposed or under construction at Gladstone to capitalize on rising demand for cleaner-burning fuels in Asia. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB) and PetroChina Co. (PTR) plan a project with a maximum capacity of 18 million tons of LNG a year, while separate ventures led by Santos Ltd. (STO.AU) and BG Group PLC (BG.LN) are already being built. All the projects will mostly use coal seam gas produced in Queensland. -By David Winning, of Dow Jones Newswires; +61-2-82724688; -Ross Kelly contributed to this article.

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