Lawmakers tell feds to speed up LNG export decision

More than a dozen Western state lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to speed up its review of allowing more U.S. natural gas to be liquefied and sold overseas.

The move — which follows letters by lawmakers representing other areas that have seen a surge in natural gas drilling — comes after the Energy Department announced another delay in a long-awaited study of the issue that will guide future export decisions.

“We strongly urge you to avoid any delays in the approval process for pending projects and ask for renewed urgency in completing the macroeconomic study,” said the 16 lawmakers, led by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu late Monday.

The Obama administration is struggling to decide whether — and how much — the U.S. should share a bounty of newly recoverable natural gas with foreign countries. The United States already sells a relatively small amount of natural gas to Mexico, Canada, Brazil and other countries, but pending proposals could put the U.S. on track to export about 16 billion cubic feet daily.

The result, however, could be higher prices at home — one of the potential consequences being probed by the Energy Department export study.

Federal regulators recently approved Houston-based Cheniere Energy’s plans to begin exporting LNG from its Sabine Pass terminal in southwest Louisiana, but the Energy Department has postponed verdicts on similar proposals until it gets the results of that analysis, previously expected in summer.

But the lawmakers who  wrote Chu on Monday insisted that exporting natural gas would blunt the potential for more volatile swings in prices for the fossil fuel, which has been prone to boom-or-bust cycles before.

“Creating more opportunities to sell natural gas into global markets and access overseas customers could help the goals of increasing natural gas use and smooth out historical boom-bust cycles,” the lawmakers said. “Realizing sustainable natural gas prices will continue to stimulate the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing, power generation, chemical and agricultural sectors, as well as continue to keep costs low to heat our homes and fuel our nation’s transportation needs.”

They group also argued that selling natural gas overseas could help balance the U.S. trade deficit.

Supporters of natural gas exporters have become more vocal in recent months in complaining that the administration is dragging its feet on a decision while investment capital is tied up in projects that may never get the green light.

“Restarting the permitting process for LNG facilities would give the United States a unique opportunity to generate more public revenues, increase investment in the U.S. economy, create new jobs and reduce our trade deficit,” said Bill Cooper, president of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas.

The study’s latest delay pushes Energy Department decisions on export licenses until after the Nov. 6 election, effectively postponing a politically tough decision.