Lawmakers: Speed up natural gas exports

Nearly two dozen lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration to open the door for more exports of liquefied natural gas.

The push comes amid a surge in domestic natural gas production from shale rock formations that has caused a glut of the fossil fuel and kept domestic prices low.

Exporting some natural gas to foreign markets could boost domestic prices high enough to sustain current production levels, the bipartisan group of 21 lawmakers said in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

“Production is outpacing demand and depressing prices below the break-even point for some producers,” the lawmakers said. “One answer to the growing supply and demand imbalance is to allow American producers to capture a share of a growing global LNG market.”

The lawmakers, who hail from states rich in shale gas bounty, warn that American producers could lose out to foreign competitors if the United States doesn’t enter the global LNG market swiftly. Letter signers include Republican Bill Johnson and Democrat Tim Ryan, both from Ohio.

“A global race (is) already underway,” the lawmakers said, noting that governments in Australia and Canada are trying to speed plans to sell their own gas resources overseas. But in the U.S., “the approval process for companies wishing to expand their market overseas is stalled.”

“We urge you (to) bring a renewed sense of urgency to the approval process,” the lawmakers added.

Texas-based companies such as Cheniere Energy and Freeport LNG are eager to take advantage of the glut of natural gas produced in the U.S., using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques that allow the fossil fuel to be freed from dense shale rock formations.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission earlier this year approved Cheniere’s plans to convert a plant in southwest Louisiana so natural gas can be liquefied and exported.

Cheniere already won the Energy Department’s approval to export liquefied natural gas, but other companies haven’t fared as well. The Energy Department has halted its review of similar applications from other firms while it conducts a broad study of the issue, including how exports would affect natural gas prices inside the U.S.

White House energy and climate change adviser Heather Zichal has stressed that a major concern is ensuring that if natural gas is exported, it won’t send prices too high inside U.S. borders — hurting American consumers and manufacturers who use the fossil fuel as a building block to make other products.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has voiced similar concerns on Capitol Hill. But lawmakers who back an aggressive natural gas export policy have been relatively quiet.

The new pro-export letter marks a change as lawmakers from shale formations begin to worry that the boom in drilling that has given their states jobs and tax revenue is jeopardized as natural gas prices remain low.

Final Letter to Sec Chu on Lng Exports 6-29-12