Exxon Mobil sees Scarborough LNG decision in 2013

MELBOURNE, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp expects to make a decision on how to develop the Scarborough gas field, considered one of the toughest projects in Western Australia, around the second half of 2013, its Australian chairman said on Thursday.

The Scarborough field, half-owned by BHP Billiton , lies some 280 kilometres offshore, making it an expensive prospect to develop, which could be difficult to justify at a time when abundant gas supplies in the United States could start flowing into Asia.

"The challenge of Scarborough is finding a solution that's viable given the challenged nature of the resource," Exxon Mobil Australia chairman John Dashwood told reporters after speaking at a business function.

The partners are evaluating a range of options including supplying gas to other companies' LNG plants or building a floating LNG platform, Dashwood said.

"There are some engineering evaluations to go through here, and I don't anticipate a decision much before the second half of next year."

Dashwood said any new LNG project would have to be weighed up against potential exports out of the U.S., where Exxon Mobil is the biggest gas producer.

Exxon Mobil is developing a $15.7 billion LNG project in Papua New Guinea and is also a 25 percent partner in Australia's biggest LNG project, the $37 billion Gorgon project, operated by Chevron .

Dashwood said those projects would not be affected by potential U.S. exports as all of its production from them has already been locked into contracts. He declined to comment on pricing provisions in those deals.

On the oil refining side, Dashwood said Exxon Mobil remains committed to running its 80,000 barrels per day Altona refinery near Melbourne, despite decisions by rivals Royal Dutch Shell

and Caltex to shut some refineries and turn them into fuel import terminals.

"I understand others have made some choices about not continuing to run their refineries here, but we have no plans to do anything other than run the Altona refinery at this point," he said.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Joseph Radford)

((Sonali.Paul@thomsonreuters.com)(+61 3 9286 1419)(Reuters Messaging: sonali.paul.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))