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LNG EXPORT: U.S. Gas Exports Put on Back Burner

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By TENNILLE TRACY

The Obama administration is telling Japan and other allied countries they will have to wait before moving forward on plans to buy American natural gas, people involved in the talks said.

A dramatic increase in U.S. natural-gas production has led several U.S. companies, including Sempra Energy SRE +0.23% and Dominion Resources Inc., D +0.15% to seek permits from the Department of Energy to export gas to countries that lack free-trade agreements with the U.S. Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM -0.73% Chief Executive Rex Tillerson said Wednesday his company was looking at exporting from the U.S. Gulf Coast and Canada.

Sempra and Dominion are working with Japanese partners that want to import the gas as their country looks for new power sources. The U.S. currently exports relatively small amounts of natural gas via pipelines to Canada and Mexico, but a wave of recent export proposals marks the first time in decades that companies have sought to liquefy U.S. gas and transport it overseas.

But exports have become a hot-button topic for some lawmakers in Washington and have highlighted uncertainty about what kind of energy power the U.S. wants to become as companies unearth huge supplies of natural gas in shale rock.

“We are going to have to answer some basic questions about our role as a producer,” Michael Levi, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said. “The fact that some of these debates have been so difficult stems from their novelty.”

Japan’s prime minister raised the gas-export issue with President Barack Obama at an April 30 meeting, one of several occasions on which Tokyo has pushed the administration.

But the U.S. has told Japan, a leading military ally in the Pacific, it will have to wait, in large part because of the political sensitivities, participants in the talks said.

“I think it’s going to require more people taking a look at it,” an administration official said, adding, “We’re very sympathetic to Japan. They’re in a very difficult situation.”

Following the disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant last year, Japan pulled the plug on all of its nuclear reactors, forcing it to replace a power source that generated about 30% of its electricity. The government is studying whether to restart some of the reactors, but nuclear power is likely to play a smaller role in five or 10 years.

That is when the U.S. natural gas could start arriving, but only if the U.S. grants permits to export terminals that would liquefy the gas for shipping across the Pacific.

Japan isn’t the only country waiting. “The requests come from everywhere,” the administration official said. Natural gas is much cheaper in the U.S. than in Europe and Asia, where the fuel’s value is often tied to the price of oil. Companies importing American gas would be able to reduce costs with contracts tied to the lower U.S. prices.

Mr. Tillerson laid out the case for exports at Exxon’s shareholder meeting Wednesday, saying they would create jobs and help the U.S. trade balance. Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, a Republican from Alaska, asked President Obama in April to expedite permits for natural-gas exports. She said exports could give Alaska a market for gas from its North Slope, which lacks a gas pipeline to the lower 48 states.

Opponents, including Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and some other congressional Democrats, say the U.S. could boost its energy security by keeping its natural gas at home. Oil-and-gas entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens, in an interview, objected to the idea of selling the gas at a discount to global prices. “You’re kind of giving your own stuff away, and it’s stupid to do that,” said Mr. Pickens, who wants U.S. trucks to use natural gas.

Japanese officials said they recognized the Obama administration’s political challenges.

“It is difficult for the U.S. to say yes [to exports] because of the presidential election,” said Hirohide Hirai, director of the petroleum and natural-gas division of Japan’s economy ministry. “There won’t be any deal with any country before November.”

U.S. officials say they are weighing how exports would affect job creation, trade and the domestic price of natural gas. A price spike would hurt consumers and weaken a competitive advantage enjoyed by U.S. manufacturers that use natural gas as a raw material. An Energy Department assessment is due later this year, and an administration official said decisions will follow in a “timely manner.”

—Mitsuru Obe and Isabel Ordonez contributed to this article.

Write to Tennille Tracy at tennille.tracy@dowjones.com

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USA: Sumitomo, Tokyo Gas in Cove Point LNG Talks with Dominion

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Following the signing by Sumitomo Corporation of a precedent agreement with respect to the bi-directional liquefied natural gas processing services with Dominion Cove Point LNG, LP, the body implementing the Cove Point LNG Project in the State of Maryland, the United States, Sumitomo Corporation has started negotiation with Dominion to conclude a final terminal service agreement. In this context, Sumitomo Corporation and Tokyo Gas Co., Ltd. have agreed to jointly work as a team to negotiate with Dominion.

The Project is envisaged to build a new LNG liquefaction plant in the existing Cove Point LNG import terminal owned and operated by Dominion (in Maryland, the United States), enabling Dominion to provide natural gas liquefaction service for export in the form of LNG. This means tolling customers concluding TSA with Dominion will be able to liquefy natural gas procured by themselves in the United States through the relevant LNG liquefaction plant. Upon obtaining the approval from the U.S. Department of Energy to export LNG to Japan or other nations that have not yet ratified a free-trade agreement (FTA) and also the approval for plant construction from the authorities, in addition to other processes required including but not limited to the final investment decision on the Project, Dominion plans to commence construction of a new LNG liquefaction plant to start-up the Project operation by sometime in 2017.

Sumitomo Corporation and Tokyo Gas have so far conducted a comprehensive deliberation on potential cooperation regarding the natural gas business in the United States and the import of LNG to Japan. Following the conclusion of the PA between Sumitomo Corporation and Dominion, Sumitomo Corporation and Tokyo Gas have decided to work together as a team to negotiate the TSA with Dominion.

In addition, Sumitomo Corporation and Tokyo Gas contemplate that the natural gas liquefied for import to Japan should be procured from the Marcellus shale gas field, etc. where located adjacent to the Project and in which Sumitomo Corporation has an interest. If the Project is realized, it would be a LNG of its kind in the US derived from shale gas destine to Japan.

Sumitomo Corporation is the first Japanese company to participate in the development of a shale gas field in the United States and currently holds two interests, including one in the Marcellus shale gas field. In addition, Pacific Summit Energy LLC, a fully owned subsidiary, is engaged in the gas trading business in the United States. Therefore, if the Project is finally agreed, Sumitomo Corporation will be able to establish a natural gas and LNG value chain in the United States across natural gas upstream development, through distribution and liquefaction, to LNG export.

Tokyo Gas is seeking to increase its procurement of LNG from un-conventional natural gas resources across the globe in order to diversify its portfolio, and to expand its global LNG value chain with the aim of reducing the costs of raw materials pursuant to its “Challenge 2020 Vision.” If the Project is finally agreed, these goals will be realized.

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Dominion: Sierra Club Will Not Block Cove Point Liquefaction Project (USA)

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Dominion said yesterday it is confident that its existing agreement with the Sierra Club and the Maryland Conservation Council permits the company to build a natural gas liquefaction plant proposed for its Cove Point facility in Lusby, Md.

Thomas F. Farrell II, Dominion chairman, president and CEO, said:

“As with any project of this magnitude, we would expect some opposition from various special interest groups. The Sierra Club, which is a party to an agreement restricting activities on portions of the Cove Point property, has previously expressed its opposition to all LNG export facilities.  We have reviewed the regulations and agreements governing the site and are confident we can locate, construct and operate a liquefaction plant at Cove Point. The project can be built within the footprint of the existing facility without amending the agreement involving the Sierra Club and the Maryland Conservation Council. Dominion plans to design, build and operate the facility with minimal environmental impacts.”

Farrell said that by adding on to an existing facility, the Cove Point project would have less environmental impact than other liquefaction projects proposed for greenfield sites. He also noted that the Cove Point facility has been cited many times for its environmental stewardship, such as for the restoration of the 190-acre Cove Point freshwater marsh, a Maryland Natural Heritage Area along Chesapeake Bay.

Dominion announced earlier today it is moving forward with its natural gas liquefaction project at Cove Point. At the end of March, Dominion signed binding precedent agreements with two companies, one of which is Sumitomo Corp., a major Japanese corporation with significant global energy operations. Between the two shippers, the planned project capacity of about 750 million cubic feet per day on the inlet and about 4.5 million to 5 million metric tons per annum on the outlet, is fully subscribed. Construction is expected to begin in 2014, with an in-service date in 2017, pending receipt of necessary approvals, negotiating binding terminal service agreements with the shippers and successful completion of engineering studies.

Economic studies filed with Dominion’s federal approval applications anticipate a number of significant benefits from the project, including:

  • An average of 750 construction workers would be employed during three-plus years of construction. There will be between 2,700 and 3,400 jobs associated with the project in Calvert County alone at the peak of construction activity.  Benefits to the natural gas and other industries would support another 14,600 jobs once the shippers begin natural gas exports.
  • About $1 billion annually of additional federal, state and local government revenues would be generated directly and indirectly.
  • Owners of the natural gas rights would receive an estimated $9.8 billion in royalties from production of natural gas over the life of the project.
  • The natural gas exports would lower the U.S. trade deficit by $2.8 billion to $7.1 billion annually.

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