I joined the Mozambique project in 2012, in the second year after the first gas was discovered, and have spent the last eight years working exclusively on this project.
I’m now the general manager of the Mozambique Project 2nd Dept.; when I joined, I was a mid-level member of the team responsible for several things: liaising with JOGMEC, the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, and evaluating the wells we drilled and their economic potential. I was promoted to head the department in 2017 and now oversee every aspect of the project except marketing and shipping. That means dealing with our project partners, contracting with construction companies, arranging the project finance and managing our CSR efforts. I’m actually one of the longest-serving members of the team now.
We made the FID, or final investment decision, in 2019. That’s nine years after we first discovered gas and, frankly, a great deal later than we ourselves expected. From that, you get an idea of just how challenging this project was.
“This project won’t be smooth sailing. There’ll be plenty of problems to work through.” That’s what the division general manager told me when I joined the team—and he was right. A project in Mozambique was a first for Mitsui. The site is in the middle of nowhere, so we had to build physical infrastructure like port facilities and a camp for the construction workers. There were many unknowns we had to deal with; we had to be very persistent and very improvisational to get things done.
Commercializing gas assets is always much harder than commercializing oil assets: that’s one key issue. On the tangible side, you have to construct facilities like pipelines and liquefaction trains. On the intangible side, you’ve got to secure advance contracts with customers for the gas and to develop a clear legal framework to govern relations with the host-country government. The upfront costs are massive. That’s why there are so many undeveloped gas fields out there.
I heard that when gas was first discovered in 2010, the people on the Mitsui team were a bit disappointed. They were like, “What? Gas, not oil?” I can see where they were coming from. Developing gas assets is so difficult.
Why did we go ahead? It comes down first to the sheer volume of reserves. The more test wells we drilled, the more gas we found. We were lucky. Our success rate was between 60 and 70 per cent. In the end, we found total recoverable reserves of around 65 trillion cubic feet. That’s global top rank by any standards. It’s enough to cover all Japan’s import needs for over 15 years.
“With a project this big—and one where we had a hand in discovering the gas—we have no choice: we have to do it.” That’s the motivation for our department and for Mitsui as a whole, and it’s what drove the project forward. When you think about the environmental side of things, perhaps discovering gas, rather than oil, was a better outcome. I certainly think so.