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In Texas, the liquefied natural gas revolution

The freighter

In the wild grass, a heron pretends to ignore the parade of giant tankers. The latter progress, on this Tuesday, March 8 at dawn, through the Sabine Pass, a channel between Texas and Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico, to reach the immense oil complex of Port Arthur. This end of the world looks like the end of the world, with its refineries and their fumaroles, its rutted roads, its coastguard houses raised to resist the hurricanes that devastate the Gulf of Mexico each year. But this is where the salvation of the Europeans, who are so dependent on Russia for their hydrocarbons, will perhaps come from.

In front of a memorial, which recalls a battle lost by Abraham Lincoln’s navy against the Confederates during the Civil War, a terminal generates a deafening noise: it is that of the company Cheniere Energy, where natural gas liquefied gas (LNG) is loaded into two bright orange LNG carriers. Brand new gas tanks line the edge of the canal, fed by a pipeline and a huge compression plant. An investment of more than 25 billion dollars (22.5 billion euros). None of this existed a few years ago. This terminal is one of the infrastructures that should allow Europeans to partly replace Russian gas.

One of the men behind this revolution is an American of Lebanese origin, Charif Souki, 69, who receives us in Houston, on the sidelines of CERAWeek by S&P Global, the world oil forum. As a young man, he went to study in the United States and stayed there because of the civil war in his country. He becomes an investment banker, settles temporarily in Paris. This Arabic speaker did business in the 1970s, in the midst of the oil shocks, when the Arab world was king, to the point of stopping work in the mid-1980s.

turn the tide

After ten years living the dolce vita in Aspen, in the mountains of Colorado, short of money, he launched into liquefied natural gas in the United States. On a bad intuition, but which will put his foot in the stirrup. Gas extraction proving costly in the United States, Charif Souki thinks that the country will soon need to import LNG and embarks on the creation of an import terminal at Sabine Pass. An investment of 2 billion euros, which consists of gasifying imported LNG.

In reality, the shale gas revolution is looming, which will make gas abundant and cheap in the country. And the day Charif Souki inaugurated his gasification terminal in April 2008, his share price collapsed, victim of short sellers. “It went from $22 to $7 that day”, tells us in perfect French Mr. Souki. He ended up bailing himself out, just before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2009. He observed that, while the price of oil rose from 40 to 70 dollars, that of gas fell from 9 to 4 dollars. There is therefore an interest in buying this inexpensive gas, liquefying it and selling it at a higher price in Asia or Europe, but we must ensure that at this bargain price the American operators will continue to drill. “At the end of 2009, I went to see my board of directors, we are going to turn things around and we are going to start exporting gas instead of importing it. »

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