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Yemen joins gas exporter club

BALHAF, Nov 8 – Yemen, one of the world\’s poorest countries, joined the international club of gas exporters Saturday with pumping starting at a newly built liquefied natural gas plant in the Gulf of Aden.

In a hillside ceremony overlooking the coast, President Ali Abdullah Saleh inaugurated exports by pushing a button giving the order to start pumping LNG from the terminal to a vessel anchored offshore.

The first shipment was to be sent to South Korea, with plans to also supply Europe and North America.

Korean LNG carrier Ecopia was loading 147,000 cubic metres (5,145,000 cubic feet), according to Philippe Hennebelle, production manager at Yemeni Liquefied Natural Gas (YLNG).

"Six shipments are expected to leave before the end of the year," he told AFP.

The 4.5-billion-dollar (3.0-billion-euro) project, involving a 320-kilometre (200-mile) gas pipeline from Maarib in eastern Yemen, is the country\’s largest ever investment.

The plant, which has France\’s Total as the main shareholder with a 39.6 percent stake, aims to reach a total production capacity of 6.7 million tonnes of LNG a year.

Yemen, a small oil producer despite its proximity to oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia, is one of the world\’s poorest countries.

Last year it produced less than 300,000 barrels per day of crude oil, and production is decreasing by five to six percent a year.

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The Balhaf plant began production on October 15 with a single liquefying unit but a second is under construction.

Once a second unit comes on line, Yemen will be able to export 6.7 million tonnes of gas annually — amounting to 180,000 barrels per day (bpd).

"The second unit should start in February-March next year and production will be 40,000 cubic metres per day while it is currently just under 20,000 cubic metres per day," said Hennebelle.

At the opening ceremony, speakers took turns to emphasise the importance of the achievement described by Oil Minister Amir al-Aydarus as the "largest economic project in the history of modern Yemen."

YLNG chief executive Francois Rafin stressed that on top of creating 10,000 jobs, the project would boost Yemeni government coffers by between 30 and 40 billion dollars over about 25 years.

Yemen\’s oil production has not exceeded 300,000 barrels of crude per day, and is declining by about five percent each year. The country has about 259 billion cubic metres in proven natural gas reserves.

Addressing the ceremony, the Yemeni president spoke of the tough situation his government is facing with Shiite rebels in the north and violent protests in the south, as well as attacks by the Al-Qaeda terror network.

"This is an important strategic project and it is good this project has not been disrupted," Saleh said in reference to inhabitants of the provinces and Shabwa and Maarib where gas is being extracted and processed.

"People in these two provinces have worked with us and have not disrupted the project," he added, stressing "the wealth it generates will benefit all Yemenis."

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