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“Unfettered” LNG Exports? Don’t Bank On It.

The U.S. has been blessed with an abundance of natural gas, enabling us to both meet our domestic demand and reap economic benefits from exporting a small percentage abroad. This opportunity has not only altered the North American energy market, but has also redrawn the global geopolitical map. The U.S. is uniquely positioned to benefit, but only if we act now.

Recently, opponents of U.S. LNG exports have claimed that permitting liquefaction and export facilities would lead to “unfettered” LNG exports and they are calling for delays in permit approvals. A basic understanding of the global LNG marketplace shows that this situation is impossible, and many energy experts agree.

The opportunity to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) will not remain on the table on the same scale, with the same benefits, indefinitely. The U.S. is not the only nation with abundant shale gas reserves. And while some debate the value of free trade in a global economy, other nations are trying to duplicate the success of America’s shale industry.

Worldwide demand for LNG between 2020 and 2025 is projected to be around 60 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d), up from approximately 37 bcf/d today. The sizeable gap between future demand and current capacity, 23 bcf/d, makes the global LNG market an attractive opportunity. However, the United States is not the only nation capable of seizing this opportunity.

The capacity of non-U.S. projects that are either planned, proposed or under construction is approximately 50 bcf/d. In fact, proposed foreign LNG capacity is more than double the expected global market opportunity in 2025.  If you add on proposed U.S. LNG capacity, the global marketplace has a proposed supply of 80 bcf/d competing to fill only 23 bcf/d of demand. The longer the U.S. delays, the more likely other nations will satisfy that demand.

Some opponents of LNG exports posit that approving permits today would lead to a mass exodus of natural gas from the U.S. market at the expense of American consumers. However, as a report from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University found, “[A]llowing exports does not mean exports will occur in any particular volume, and policymakers should understand this very salient point.” Not only are there necessary guidelines in place with DOE, but the market itself will provide boundaries for U.S. exports.

The market will also dictate how many proposed LNG export projects are actually built. While there are many proposed projects, experts at the Energy Policy Research Foundation predict that only some will move forward due to market needs and competition for capital. A decade ago, a similar dynamic existed for U.S. LNG import terminals, when many more terminals were proposed than built.  As such, the idea that natural gas exports will commence at a rushed or radical pace is both illogical and unlikely.

One of the most significant opportunities that LNG exports would provide is selling much needed energy supplies to our ally, Japan, which is still experiencing an energy crisis following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Japan needs energy resources, and if we do not supply them, another nation will.

The U.S. has little to lose with exports moving forward, and much more to gain. Each potential export terminal represents a multi-billion dollar investment that would create thousands of jobs, stimulate local economies and boost our manufacturing sector. As DOE’s third party-commissioned macroeconomic report found, in every export scenario examined, “[T]he U.S. would experience net economic benefits from increased LNG exports.”

DOE has been studying the potential impacts of LNG exports for over a year.  Bolstered by the overwhelming weight of expert studies, we know the U.S. has a  huge supply abundance, proper regulations in place, a favorable market and the support of local, state and Congressional lawmakers. It is time for DOE to approve pending applications and embrace this opportunity for the U.S. economy and American workers.