Woodside and industry experts have long said that it would cost billions more to develop Sunrise via Timor-Leste instead of Darwin.
Ramos-Horta said that it made no sense to him to send the gas to Darwin, which would require a 500km pipeline, rather than to Timor-Leste with a 200km pipeline, and added that operating costs in Timor-Leste would be much less than in Australia.
“I don’t understand the economic logic of the joint venture of insisting to take that pipeline. But we are open to discussions with the government,” he said.
An independent study leaked to the Australian Financial Review last month showed that the total capital cost for the LNG project would be US$11.8 billion in Darwin and US$14.1 billion in Timor-Leste.
Ramos-Horta said he was confident that Sunrise would be developed, possibly in tandem with the Abadi gas field off Indonesia.
“I’m also confident that in the end we will reach agreement with Woodside and the other joint venture members,” he said.
Japan’s Inpex, operator of the Abadi gas project, declined to comment on Ramos-Horta’s remarks.
A Woodside spokesperson reiterated on Wednesday that its focus is for the joint venture, which includes state-owned petroleum company Timor Gap and Japan’s Osaka Gas, to finalise a production sharing contract with the Timorese and Australian governments before debating development options.
Ramos-Horta echoed comments by Timor Gap, the majority stakeholder in Sunrise, that studies show there are no economic or technical obstacles to piping gas to Timor-Leste, despite the challenge of traversing a deep ocean trench.
Comments by Ramos-Horta that China could invest in the gas project come at a time when Australia and its allies have raised concern about Beijing’s growing influence in the region after it signed a security pact with the Solomon Islands.
However, he played down any security risk from China investing in a pipeline.
When asked to assess the situation in the Solomon Islands, he said that he would advise the Pacific islands not to bring in regional powers that might be unwelcome to their neighbours.
“Any rational Timorese leader would never do anything without taking into consideration the sensitivities of your neighbours,” he said, noting that Timor-Leste was strategically located between Australia and Indonesia.