JEFFERSON COUNTY, Texas — Exxon Mobil is making a big bet on the future of exporting natural gas.
Exxon and Qatar Petroleum announced Tuesday that they will go ahead with a $10 billion project to export liquefied natural gas from a plant on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The companies said construction at the Golden Pass plant in Sabine Pass, Texas, would start before April, and the export operation is expected to begin running in 2024.
Exxon said the project will create 9,000 jobs during the five years of construction and more than 200 permanent jobs.
The Golden Pass plant opened in 2010 to import gas that has been chilled into liquid form, allowing it to be loaded on to tankers for shipment. Its backers saw a market in importing natural gas, a cleaner fuel than oil.
As U.S. gas production soared in this decade, however, with much of it coming from the Permian Basin in west Texas and New Mexico, Exxon and others studied ways to boost sales by using the suddenly abundant American gas supply to meet surging global demand.
Globally, annual trade in liquefied gas grew faster than 10 percent in both 2017 and 2018, according to the International Energy Agency. Demand has been growing fastest in Asia, especially in China, but European countries have also stepped up imports as a way to diversify energy sources.
Trade in liquefied gas is expected to rise by more than two-thirds in the next 20 years, said Jean-Baptiste Dubreuil, an analyst with the Paris-based group.
"It will be instrumental in the evolution of natural gas toward a more diversified, flexible and global market," Dubreuil said.
The Texas project is expected to be the first of many similar announcements by energy companies this year. Dubreuil said others are expected to come from the U.S., Russia, Africa, and Qatar.
Exxon and Qatar Petroleum say the export facility in Texas will be able to produce about 16 million tons of liquefied gas per year.
Qatar Petroleum owns 70 percent of the export project and Exxon holds the other 30 percent after buying out ConocoPhillips' 12.4 percent stake in the existing LNG import terminal and pipeline. That purchase is awaiting regulatory approval.
Exxon and Qatar Petroleum have worked together on exploration and development projects in Argentina, Brazil and Mozambique. Qatar Petroleum, a leading producer of LNG, is investing billions in the U.S. as it seeks to continue expanding beyond its home borders.
On Jan. 1, Qatar left OPEC after a nearly two-year trade embargo against it by cartel members Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. rose 37 cents to $75.19 in afternoon trading.