The Department of Energy has given Cheniere Energy approval to export liquefied natural gas from its Sabine Pass LNG terminal on the Louisiana side of the waterway.
The project still needs final environmental permits and approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but the DOE approval is a key step forward for the project to turn U.S. natural gas into a super-chilled liquid for export.
Sabine Pass opened in 2008 as a terminal to take in shipments from overseas. A surge in natural gas production from U.S. shale gas fields turned the market on its head, however, reducing the need for imports.
Houston-based Cheniere Energy Partners and other LNG terminal owners first sought, and were granted, permits to re-export LNG that was offloaded at their terminals. The permits to turn U.S. natural gas into a liquid for export were first filed last year when it became clearer that U.S. supplies were likely to remain strong.
Cheniere said the DOE approval will allow it to export up to 803 billion cubic feet of gas per year.
The approval is “a significant milestone” for the project, which would be the first bi-directional LNG processing facility capable of importing and exporting LNG, said Cheniere Chairman and CEO Charif Souki.
Cheniere has non-binding agreements with potential customers for up to 9.8 million tons per year of natural gas liquefaction capacity. Based on customer interest the company expects to build one of the four planned liquefaction facilities every six to nine months beginning in the first half of 2015.
Construction of the facilities could mean up to 3,000 temporary jobs in the area and between 150 to 250 full-time positions to operate and maintain the project once completed.