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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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Feds approve Cheniere’s plan to export natural gas

imageApril 16, 2012 at 6:01 pm
by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

Houston-based Cheniere Energy on Monday cleared the final major hurdle to exporting natural gas when federal regulators approved the firm’s plan to build a plant in southwest Louisiana for liquefying the fuel.

The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission puts Cheniere on track to convert its existing Sabine Pass terminal for receiving liquefied natural gas by 2015 — a timeline that would make it the first LNG export facility in the lower 48 states. One operates now in Alaska.

The company aims to export up to 3.5 million tons per year from the facility in Lake Charles, La. Cheniere plans to build the liquefaction plant in two stages, adding 191 acres to the existing terminal’s space. The facility would still be able to receive liquefied natural gas from tankers.

“Obtaining approval from the FERC is one more milestone for our liquefaction project,” said Cheniere CEO Charif Souki. “We will now finalize the financing arrangements in order to commence construction.”

About half a dozen other companies, including Texas-based Freeport LNG, also are pursuing exports to take advantage of the glut of natural gas produced in the U.S. using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques that free hydrocarbons from dense shale rock formations.

Exports would allow natural gas producers and processors to capitalize on higher prices globally compared to the United States. In the U.S. Monday, natural gas futures settled just over $2 per million British thermal units after hitting 10-year lows last week.

In Cheniere’s case, the strategy is a bid to put its receiving terminal to work. The Sabine Pass terminal went online in 2009, just as U.S. natural gas production surged and killed the need for LNG imports.

When natural gas is cooled to 256 degrees below zero it becomes a liquid that tanker ships can transport. At its destination it is converted back into gas. Cheniere’s Sabine Pass terminal is outfitted with regassification and storage equipment now.

In approving Cheniere’s liquefaction plant plans, FERC also could also give a boost to U.S. producers with big natural gas portfolios.

But a rise in natural gas prices would increase consumers’ monthly bills and also would be bad news for chemical manufacturers that use natural gas as a building block to create other products.

Congressional Democrats have proposed legislation that would ban new LNG exports. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who is pushing a ban, said the expert terminals would mean sending U.S. natural gas to China and Europe 00 and “exporting our manufacturing jobs abroad along with the fuel.”

“America should exploit her competitive advantage with lower natural gas prices to create jobs in the United States, not export natural gas to create more profits for oil and gas companies,” Markey said.

And environmentalists have asked top Obama administration officials to require a broader review of the consequences of the surge in natural gas drilling that probably would result from selling the fuel overseas.

Critics fear hydraulic fracturing can contaminate water supplies and cause localized earthquakes. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement Monday that exports would increase production and hydraulic fracturing, “making a dirty fuel more dangerous and putting more American families in at risk.”

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LETTER: ‘Career Politicians Like Markey are Holding Our Economy Back’

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By Susan Petroni

In a move that further exemplifies why we must redirect our government in order to restore our economy, U.S. Rep. Ed Markey has decided to fight the law of supply & demand. His consistent failure to understand basic economics damages our economy – in this instance, by stifling job creation and energy independence.
In a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Markey questioned the impact of allowing U.S. companies to export liquefied natural gas with the following statement:

‘I am worried that exporting America’s natural gas would raise energy costs for American consumers, reduce the global competitiveness of U.S. businesses, make us more dependent on foreign sources of energy, and slow our transition away from dirtier fuels.’

This statement is another example of how career politicians like Markey are holding our economy back. Recent advances in natural gas exploration have brought us to the point of oversupply in the U.S. market. This situation provides a unique opportunity to be a net energy exporter for LNG (liquefied natural gas). Being at a point of oversupply means that we have reached our capacity to consume LNG domestically. Mr. Markey’s proposal to artificially inhibit exports  will yield the precise outcome that he allegedly wants to avoid;  namely, reducing the global competitiveness of U.S. businesses.

Last year, in an $8 billion 20-year deal,  the Energy Department approved the first application by Cheniere Energy to export LNG to the UK.  This is a step in the right direction. Other countries will start sending their money to us instead of us sending our money overseas.

Natural gas is cleaner than oil. It is also more abundant than oil in the United States and it provides an excellent vehicle for job creation. As we speak, many LNG import sites across the U.S. largely sit idle as exporters (to the U.S.) shift their LNG supplies to emerging markets that will pay a premium for natural gas. Among the sites built on the anticipation of large LNG imports is SUEZ Energy North America located in Everett.

SUEZ is a natural gas importer and large contributor to Mr. Markey’s campaign.

Now imagine if the Everett LNG import site became an export site. Imagine hundreds of workers becoming employed in the conversion process from importer to exporter. Imagine job growth in and around Boston if it became a hub for energy exports, with every tanker that passes through Boston harbor another reminder of economic growth here in America. This isn’t a far fetched concept.
Right now, Dominion Resources Inc (D.N) is considering plans to build a liquefied natural gas export plant on the site of its existing import terminal at Cove Point, Maryland, by 2015. Southern Union Co. is launching similar plans at their Lake Charles, La., LNG import terminal as well.

What is standing in the way? Rep. Markey.

Career politicians like Markey (who was elected in 1976, the year I was born) are fundamentally incapable of grasping the negative effects of blocking incredible opportunities such as these.
In addition to his myopic view of energy development here in the U.S., Markey is engaged in a serious conflict of interest by sitting on both  the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Natural Resources Committee, attempting to regulate the energy industry while accepting campaign contributions from its lobbyists.
Besides SUEZ Energy, Markey has accepted contributions from Chesapeake Energy, Interstate Natural Gas Assn of America, Spectra Energy and Washington Gas Light Co., all companies within the natural gas sector.

Accepting contributions from these companies is not illegal, but threatening them with adverse legislation, application delays or public scorn is tantamount to a shakedown. This is just the latest demonstration of Markey’s questionable ethics. There are numerous others, including examples relating to the solar and telecommunications industries.

For the sake of our national economy, and to help  the hard working men and women who are struggling to find a job in Massachusetts’ 5th District and across the country, it is high time that we voted Markey out of office. I look forward to being the candidate to make it happen.

Semon (pronounced Simone) is a candidate for Congress in 5th Congressional District. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst – School of Management, Semon is a senior business analyst. He and his wife Nicole live in Lexington and recently had their first child Eleanor in  December.

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