Qatar's new leadership is expected to accelerate plans to spin off its prized asset, Qatar Petroleum, from the energy ministry to allow the world's biggest liquefied gas producer to grow more quickly abroad at a time of rising rivalry from new producers.
Qatar's global LNG market dominance is under threat as new producers in the United States, Australia and East Africa will flood the market with new volumes in the next few years.
Industry sources say Qatar hopes that the spinoff will speed up decision making, something Qatar's outgoing emir has asked from the new leadership in general when transferring power to his son last month.
"In many ways it (the plan) would increase efficiency," a source at Qatar Petroleum said. "The rationale behind the desire for international growth is the moratorium, as the growth potential at home is limited."
QP's growth prospects at home are severely hampered by a self-imposed moratorium on new projects to tap the world's biggest gas reservoir, the North Field, leaving international expansion as the best chance of maintaining its gas market share.
The moratorium is expected to remain in place until at least 2015. By that time, former leading Qatari LNG buyer, the United States, is expected to start exporting its own LNG, while a wave of Australian projects are due to start supplying Asia, which currently buys about half of Qatar's LNG.
QP revenues have bankrolled the tiny Gulf state's transition into a pivotal political player in the Middle East with large roles in the Libyan and Syrian revolutions as well as an important global investor in Western banks and companies.
Although the first steps toward giving QP more independence were taken over a year ago, last month's father-to-son power transfer may prove an additional catalyst for the plan.
The outgoing emir Sheikh Hamad, 61, abdicated to transfer power to his 33-year-old heir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, saying he wanted a new generation "with their innovative ideas and active energies" to take over.
The first hints of changes emerged about 18 months ago when energy minister Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada's department was divided into a ministerial and QP business side.
Several sources told Reuters that Saad Sharida Al-Kaabi, director of QP's huge ventures with foreign majors, Qatargas and Rasgas, was a front-runner to become QP's new CEO while Al-Sada will keep ministerial functions.
"It is simply a separation of powers, it means that the crown jewels are no longer in the hands of one person, those days have gone," one Western diplomat said.
QP controlled businesses generate over half of Qatar's gross domestic product and about three quarters of export earnings for the OPEC member. It might take several months for the spinoff to materialize, several sources told Reuters.
Gulf OPEC governments keep their national oil companies on a tight leash, not least because it helps them control production in line with OPEC policy.
Unlike QP, where Al-Sada is both chairman and managing director, some state companies have chief executives for daily business, like Khalid al-Falih, who has become Saudi Aramco's face abroad.
The CEOs still answer to energy ministers, in the case of Saudi Arabia to long-serving Ali al-Naimi, who typically head the boards and report to the national rulers.
The reforms planed in Qatar will see Al-Sada relinquish his role as managing director, although he may stay on as chairman.
QP has built its LNG facilities with the help of ExxonMobil, Shell and Total and is sharing output with global majors via the Qatargas and Rasgas ventures.
The two ventures have been careful not to tread on each other's toes in their global LNG sales businesses, but having separate boards reduces efficiency in decision making, even if they ultimately answer to one boss, Al Sada, sources say.
Sources add that a merger of Rasgas and Qatargas has long been contemplated as one of the options to streamline the decision-making process and maximize profit for Qatar.
The details of the plan are still not clear with Rasgas 30 percent-owned by Exxon while Qatargas is made up of a wider consortium of companies including Total, Exxon, Mitsui, Marubeni, ConocoPhillips and Shell.
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