* Underlying profit falls 23 pct in 2016
* Plans to expand Pluto LNG in next few years
* Dividend cut to 83 cents, misses market forecasts
* Shares fall 1 pct (Adds CEO comments)
MELBOURNE, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Woodside Petroleum Ltd said on Wednesday it sees its output rising by about 15 percent over the next three years, and flagged plans to expand near-term output in Western Australia as it seeks to defy views that it is short on growth.
Australia’s top gas and oil producer has come through the oil market rout over the past two years in better shape than rivals, with $2.7 billion in cash and undrawn debt, and sees itself well positioned as prices rebound.
“We’re a fundamentally different company to the one we were five years ago and the opportunity set in front of us is very much world class,” Chief Executive Peter Coleman told reporters, pointing to prospects in Australia, Myanmar and Senegal.
Woodside reported a 23 percent drop in annual underlying profit to $868 million for 2016, in line with analysts’ forecasts, as it was hit by weaker oil and gas prices that offset cost cuts and a rise in output.
The company cut its full year dividend to 83 cents a share from $1.09, slightly short of analysts’ forecasts of 85 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Woodside’s forecast for production to grow by 15 percent over the next three years, implying output of around 100 million barrels of oil equivalent by 2020, was ahead of some analysts’ forecasts for growth of around 5 percent.
All of its growth over the past five years has come from its Pluto liquefied natural gas project which began in 2012.
The increase will come from the Wheatstone liquefied natural gas project (LNG), where operator Chevron Corp expects production to start in mid-2017, and oil from Woodside’s Greater Enfield project.
The company is also looking to boost output from Pluto by just under 1 million tonnes by running its facilities harder, and is considering a further expansion by adding a small new production unit of 1 million to 1.5 million tonnes.
“It’s something that can be brought to market quickly,” Coleman said, contrasting the expansion option with the huge LNG plants that have been built in the region over the past five to 10 years.
Woodside is also planning to build a truck terminal to supply LNG from Pluto to fuel the local mining industry and wants to supply LNG for the shipping sector, too, to build demand for its key product.
Shares in Woodside fell 1.1 percent in a flat broader market on Wednesday.
Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin