CANBERRA (Commodity Online) : After gold, Australia now has shifted its focus on huge deposits of newly found natural gas off its North East coast to earn the post of energy superpower.

According to Australia's Resources ministry, projects being ramped up to tap huge undersea fields off the country's northwest could quadruple its exports of liquefied natural gas in the next few years.

It will be the next stage of a long boom that has enriched Australia and made it a key supplier of the raw materials underpinning Asia's development - from the girders in city skyscrapers to the fuel burned to light them.

We have what the world, and particularly the rapidly growing economies of Asia, want - iron ore, energy and minerals, said Colin Barnett, the premier of Western Australia state, which is at the heart of the new boom.

The mostly desert state has become known for a frontier atmosphere not unlike that of Australia's 19th century gold rush, the country's first mining boom that drew enough migrants to almost triple Australia's population within a decade.

As a major source of the materials driving Asia's economic surge, Australia has increasingly been drawn into the orbit of emerging giants China and India, spawning tensions and discord.

There are also nagging worries over economic overheating and long-lasting environmental damage caused by its thriving resource industry.

Gas was discovered off Australia's remote northwest coast in the 1970s. But its exploitation has lagged behind iron ore and coal that have been easier to get and more in demand.

Now, gas is gaining popularity as a cleaner-burning alternative to coal in power generation, with a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions.

The biggest boost in the sector came last September, when Chevron and joint venture partners ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell announced they would go ahead with the massive Gorgon project.

The venture will drill fields about 80 miles offshore to tap into an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet of gas, build pipelines and a liquefaction plant and port for about $41 billion, roughly the size of Guatemala's gross national product.

If that sounds big, the numbers stack up. The decision to proceed came on the heels of news that ExxonMobil Corp. had signed a 20-year deal worth about A$50 billion to supply PetroChina Co. with LNG from its share of Gorgon. Similar deals for Gorgon gas worth another A$70 billion were struck with power companies in Japan, South Korea and India.

The Australian government says Gorgon could generate exports worth A$300 billion during the next 20 years. And that's just one project. There are at least a half dozen other large gas plans in the works, including Australian company Woodside's $12 billion plan to tap the Browse fields holding an estimated 20 trillion cubic feet of gas.