Chevron Corp. has started producing LNG at its Wheatstone project in Australia, slightly later than expected, and plans to ship its first cargo soon.

The LNG market will be focused on how smoothly Wheatstone progresses following the troubled startup at Chevron’s bigger Gorgon LNG project. Both projects are fed from natural gas fields offshore the state of Western Australia.

“The first cargo is on track to be shipped in the coming weeks,” Chevron Corp. said in a statement Oct. 9. It had originally hoped to start exporting from Wheatstone in the middle of 2017.

Wheatstone is the sixth out of eight projects in a $200 billion Australian LNG construction boom that is now in its final stretch. The two remaining ones are Royal Dutch Shell’s Prelude floating LNG project and Ichthys, led by Japan’s Inpex.

This massive expansion, which has suffered numerous delays, has propelled Australia past Malaysia to become the world’s second biggest LNG exporter. Once all the megaprojects are completed, Australia will challenge Qatar for the top spot.

Wheatstone To Weigh On LNG Prices

Wheatstone, co-owned by Australia’s Woodside Petroleum, Kuwait Foreign Exploration Co. and Japan’s Kyushu Electric Power Co., has two gas liquefaction units, which at full capacity will supply 8.9 million metric tonnes of LNG per year to customers in Asia.

The company expects the second unit to start producing six to eight months after the first.

Woodside has been closely involved in Wheatstone, looking to ensure smooth development, as the company expects the project to be the largest contributor to its planned 15% production growth over the next three years.

“Wheatstone is a world-class asset and the safe startup of the facility was one of our priorities for 2017, supporting our near-term growth strategy,” Woodside CEO Peter Coleman said.

Wheatstone exports could stall rising spot LNG prices, which have surged 55% since March to $8.50 per million Btu (MMBtu) on strong demand and the delayed ramp-up of many of the Australian LNG export facilities.

“[Wheatstone] comes at just the right time ahead of winter. ...Together with Wheatstone, several new LNG trains, such as Yamal LNG, Cove Point and Train 4 from Sabine Pass, will ramp up or start up production by year-end [2017],” said Nicholas Browne, head of Asia gas and power research at Wood Mackenzie in Singapore.

“This will sow the seeds for strong production through winter 2017-18, pushing the market into increasing overcapacity as we move into the summer of 2018. We therefore expect to see prices dip below $6/MMbtu once this winter is over.”