LNG export fans form new coalition

WASHINGTON — Oil industry and business groups have formed a new coalition to make the case for expanded exports of American natural gas.

The “Our Energy Moment” campaign, which is described as a grassroots organization, aims to counter the arguments of export foes, as the Obama administration weighs applications to widely sell liquefied natural gas overseas.

Some export advocates are worried that the critics have gotten the upper hand in the debate. Although the Energy Department has approved five licenses to export natural gas to countries that aren’t U.S. free trade partners, it has been nearly three months since the last permit was granted. And 23 exports applications remain in the Energy Department’s queue.

Sempra LNG, the company next in line for a permit, is one of the new coalition’s founding members. The company hopes to remake the existing Cameron LNG receiving terminal in Hackberry, La., with cryogenic equipment capable of super-chilling natural gas and transforming it into a liquid for tanker transport.

Another member is Houston-based Cheniere Energy, Inc., which is the only U.S. company outside of Alaska that has an export license and approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to export natural gas liquefied at its Sabine Pass, La. facility. Construction on the first two liquefaction trains is under way now.

Others in the coalition include the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable and the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. Gas producers are eager to take advantage of Asia’s thirst for the fossil fuel and benefit from higher international pricing for it.

Video: Cheniere’s massive export plans rise on Gulf Coast

The new group’s biggest opposition may be America’s Energy Advantage, a coalition of big industrial users of natural gas, led by the Dow Chemical Co., which was formed to lobby against unfettered LNG exports.

The group has been pressing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to take a timeout on issuing new export licenses until the Obama administration completes a fresh review of economic, demand and production data.

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers also have sounded the alarm about broad gas exports, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Dow’s home state of Michigan, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who heads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Charles Ebinger, an energy expert at the Brookings Institution who supports the new pro-export coalition, said it will highlight the economic benefits the U.S. could gain from more foreign natural gas sales.

“Our Energy Moment is being launched to raise awareness of the historic opportunity for the U.S. to assert global energy leadership, strengthen its economy and create American jobs by expanding domestic and international markets for U.S. natural gas,” Ebinger said.

The group plans to highlight support for exports among elected officials, academic institutions, business groups, economic development organizations and other not-for-profits.

“As policymakers continue to debate the issue of LNG exports, Our Energy Moment was created to amplify the voice of members who support expanding our energy markets abroad,” a group spokesperson said. “Expanding exports of LNG is critical to helping the U.S. realize its potential as a global energy leader. Protectionist policies could restrict America’s potential and keep us reliant on others for our energy needs.”