The US Department of Energy's LNG export approval process is likely costing the US a share of the global market and putting billions of dollars in potential investment at risk and jeopardizing goodwill with international allies, an economist said Monday.
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Margo Thorning, senior vice president and chief economist with the American Council for Capital Formation, a pro-business economic think tank, said DOE needs to quickly approve the pending LNG export applications in its queue and start treating gas the same way exports of wheat, soybeans or airplanes are treated.
"We don't restrict the export of other products," said Thorning. "There's no real justification for this go-slow approach, in my view, and it's probably going to cost us market share."
DOE on November 15 gave conditional approval to Freeport LNG to ship an additional 400,000 Mcf/d of LNG from its planned export facility in Quintana Island, Texas, to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the US. It was the fifth approval of its kind DOE has granted and the second such approval for Freeport.
But the approval was actually 1 Bcf/d below what Freeport had requested and 20 applications are still awaiting DOE approval.
While DOE must quickly authorize exports to FTA nations, it can limit or block exports to non-FTA countries if they are not in the public interest. The department has done a pair of studies on the impact of LNG exports on domestic gas prices and the economy to help it make the public interest determinations.
Last month, America's Energy Advantage, a group which includes Dow Chemical and the American Public Gas Association, pressed DOE to suspend its approval process, arguing that the agency needs to develop legal standards on how it will rescind LNG export approvals.
But in a letter sent to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz on Friday, Thorning said that suspending this process could violate World Trade Organization rules and impair US investment.
"Obviously, injecting that level of uncertainty would kill off investment in what are multi-billion dollar investment," Thorning wrote.
In her letter, Thorning said that approving all pending export applications would boost the US' geopolitical position by reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas and by giving Japan new energy sources following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
--Brian Scheid, firstname.lastname@example.org