Productivity gains 'will spark investment'
Rather than experience a slowdown in resources spending, the door might open to another $100 billion of investment if the sector's productivity improves, says one of the country's largest energy producers.
"The oil and gas industry has the opportunity to invest another $100 billion post 2016," Santos chief executive David Knox said. "To ensure that, we need to drive productivity up."
Santos is completing one of Queensland's three export gas projects at a cost of $US18.5 billion ($20.2 billion), while considering more spending on big-ticket developments in Western Australia.
One benefit of the decline in resource sector spending is a fall in costs. New contracts on average are 15 per cent cheaper thanks to increased "competitive tension".
At the same time, Mr Knox said, Santos was increasingly willing to dump long-term suppliers "if they are not coming across on costs".
Santos reported a June half-year net profit of $271 million, up from $262 million a year earlier, with higher oil and gas prices offsetting lower output. Carbon costs of $36 million squeezed earnings, and part of that has brought a higher tax bill.
Mr Knox threw his weight behind a move to a market-based carbon price, which would ensure the international competitiveness of local industry was maintained.
"We support going to a market price as soon as we can, so that we have a level playing field as we compete offshore," he said.
He also warned about making significant changes to the government's carbon policy.
"The key thing is maintaining a steady hand on the tiller. We need a competitive, highly productive economy that continues to reduce its carbon footprint while maintaining competitiveness with Asia."
Asked about the Coalition's direct action policy to cut carbon emissions, Mr Knox said he did not "know enough to intelligently comment".
Commissioning of the PNG gas export project, in which Santos holds a 13.5 per cent stake, is expected by the end of the year, and the Queensland project to be commissioned from 2015. The group has a 30 per cent stake in this venture.
"Operating cash flow will more than double" over the next three years as cash started to flow from the projects, chief financial officer Andrew Seaton told analysts.
The company will consider either higher dividends or buybacks once the PNG project was commissioned.
Interest was also sparked by flagged possible projects, one in the Browse Basin, a brownfields development in northern Western Australia, and a greenfields development in the Carnarvon Basin further south.
Santos declared a steady interim dividend of 15¢ a share.