Group enters natural gas export debate to nudge administration

“We are talking with them and we are meeting with them. We don’t believe that the regulatory process is broken,” Cooper said. “I think the need is to get the regulatory process moving again. The applications have been stalled at the Department of Energy since last November, and there’s a strong desire to see that process restarted.”

The administration has proven less willing to green-light permits to nations that aren't trade partners. Only one of the 15 applications from non-trade pact countries has been approved, while the administration has granted 14 of 19 permits for exports to countries with agreements in place.

A loose coalition to which CLNG belongs has quietly pressured the administration on the topic in recent months.

That informal collection of manufacturers and energy groups organized lawmakers to send letters urging the administration to expedite export approvals. The lawmakers, who were mostly Republican, have cited economic gains from exporting LNG while downplaying the effects it might have on price increases.

The Energy Department has said it is waiting on the second and final part of its study on natural gas exports before it proceeds with permitting. The administration delayed releasing that report until after the election, citing complexities of analyzing fragmented global markets.


That study is expected to be completed by the end of the year, an Energy official told The Hill in an email. The official said the study is one of many inputs considered in Energy's decision on LNG exports.

"Prior to approving a proposal to export natural gas, the Natural Gas Act requires the Energy Department  to determine that the proposed export is consistent with the public interest. That public interest determination includes, among other factors, both economic and environmental considerations," the DOE official said.

The first part of the Energy Department's report said exports would likely raise natural gas prices in the United States, a comment that some Democrats who oppose exports seized upon.


Cooper said that several other analyses show the price increases would be minimal, and that exports could reduce natural gas price volatility.

“We are told that the Department of Energy wants to make sure that it gets the study right. It wants it to be right and accurate in all respects,” Cooper said. “And we want it to be accurate in all respects — but it’s taken a very long time.”

A group of 20 Democratic lawmakers is using that time to ask the administration for a broader environmental assessment on exporting natural gas.

Those lawmakers want Energy to request a more stringent environmental test for approving the permits. They are concerned that unconventional drilling methods that have been linked to land damage and contaminated drinking water would be used to meet a bulk of the new demand from exports.

Cooper said current regulations do not require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to evaluate environmental effects with that broad of a scope.

FERC must only rule on the environmental impact of the terminal itself, Cooper noted. FERC offered that explanation when it approved Cheniere Energy’s permit to non-free trade countries at its Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana.

But Energy said earlier this month that it needs more time to consider a request from the Sierra Club to use the more stringent environmental test.