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* LNG demand growth expected to absorb current excess
* Projects with unsold volumes could hurt market in mid-2020s
* Long term contracts needed to underpin new projects (Adds Woodside CEO comment)
BRISBANE, May 28 (Reuters) - Liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers ConocoPhillips and Woodside Petroleum expect prices for the commodity to pick up in the short term, pulling away from three-year lows that were hit after a mild northern hemisphere winter.
But the chief executive at Australia's Woodside, Peter Coleman, said he was worried about companies approving new LNG projects without lining up long-term contracts, potentially weighing on prices when they start producing in the mid-2020s.
In the near term, ConocoPhillips Chief Executive Ryan Lance said growing demand would soak up excess supply in the market.
"LNG prices are pretty weak right now, but we believe it's a short-term phenomenon," Lance said at an industry conference in Australia.
"We just came out of a mild northern hemisphere winter. We believe that demand growth will absorb the current supply excess that exists in the market today," he said.
ConocoPhillips operates the 3.7 million tonnes a year Darwin LNG plant in northern Australia and the 9 million tonnes a year east coast Australia Pacific LNG plant.
Woodside's Coleman does not expect the current weak prices to affect the timing of the company's Browse gas project off northwest Australia, for which the company aims to make a final investment decision in late 2020.
"We always thought 2019, 2020 would be difficult trading years with respect to the spot market," he said.
Coleman said that timetable for a final investment decision was "safe" as Woodside's partners include LNG buyers Mitsui & Co , Mitsubishi Corp and PetroChina.
"For us, we're not going to be competing with our partners in Browse for sales anywhere, so that gives us some comfort we can get it away," he said.
But what could weigh on the market in the mid-2020s is that a number of new LNG projects elsewhere could go ahead without having pre-sold all their volumes, as Shell has done with a project in Canada.
"That is a concern for me, because that signals ... that everybody's seeing that same thing that we've been talking about, which is that the market will start to tighten in 2023-24, and they're just holding back selling their volumes until the market tightens," he said.
"If too many projects do that, of course, there'll never be a tightening because everybody will be trying to get in at the same time."
ConocoPhillips expects to make a final investment decision later this year or in early 2020 on whether to develop the Barossa gas field to fill the Darwin LNG plant when supply runs out around 2022 from the Bayu Undan field in the Timor Sea.
Its partners in Barossa, which lies about 300 km (186 miles) north of Darwin, are South Korea's SK E&S Co and Santos.
Lance said LNG buyers are taking advantage of weak spot LNG prices, now at three-year lows below $5 per million British thermal units (mmBTU), to demand shorter term contracts and more pricing latitude from suppliers.
"It's a buyer's market today," Lance said.
"As for the long term, we expect the current oversupply to tighten by the mid-2020s," he said.
He said producers would need to line up longer-term contracts from buyers to be able to fund construction projects.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin and Joseph Radford)