News Column

Senators Push for LNG Exports

July 11, 2013
Natural gas well (file photo)
Natural gas well (file photo)

Nearly three dozen senators on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to move quickly and make simultaneous decisions on applications to allow greater export of liquefied natural gas harvested in the United States.

The push unites 23 Republicans -- including Texans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz -- and 11 Democrats representing gas-producing states eager to find a new market for the bounty.

"The world is hungry for U.S. natural gas," the group said in a letter Wednesday to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. But, the senators warned, "the timeline for considering these applications may jeopardize our ability to retain a competitive position against other natural gas exporting nations."

So far, the Energy Department has approved just two permits -- both for Houston-based companies -- to export natural gas to countries that don't have free trade agreements with the United States.

But 15 other applications are pending, with proposals to export as much as 29 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The Energy Department took a two-year timeout to study the economics of the issue after giving conditional export approval in May 2011 for Houston-based Cheniere Energy to export from its Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana.

In May of this year, the department approved Freeport LNG's license to export from Quintana Island southwest of Houston, and officials have signaled they will make remaining decisions every six to 10 weeks.

But for gas producers, companies proposing liquefaction facilities and their congressional allies, that is too long to wait.

"There is a global race for market share underway," the senators told Moniz in their letter. "American competitors have been at a disadvantage for the past year and a half because the Department of Energy has delayed action on pending applications."

The senators suggested that the department abandon its case-by-case review of each application and instead make decisions on a bulk of applications at once.

An Energy Department spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Critics of expanded natural gas exports -- including manufacturers that use gas as a fuel or a raw material -- say more foreign sales could cause the domestic price to climb, blunting a competitive advantage that has spurred them to move facilities to the United States.

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(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle

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