* DOE has not taken a position on LNG export report
* Republican says review process should be expeditious
* Democrats question impact of exports on prices
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, March 19 The U.S. Energy Department
said on Tuesday it is wading through nearly 200,000 comments
received in response to a report on the impact of natural gas
exports, as Republicans pushed for the government to move
"expeditiously" to consider the many pending export
Released in December, the department-sponsored report gave a
resounding endorsement of the economic benefits of exporting
liquefied natural gas, saying the more exports, the better.
But a vocal contingent of manufacturers and heavy industrial
companies, as well as environmentalists, have blasted the report
by NERA Economic Consulting. They called on the government to
revisit the study using updated data and different criteria.
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Christopher
Smith told lawmakers the department has not taken a position on
the NERA study or on an earlier analysis by the Energy
"DOE continues to review the comments that have been
received ... and will address those comments when it issues
decisions on the applications," Smith said in prepared testimony
to the House oversight committee.
The last comment period on the export report ended on Feb.
25. The department said it received more than 188,000 initial
comments and about 2,700 additional comments.
The shale gas bonanza has led to a natural gas glut in the
United States, where production has quickly begun to outpace
demand. Gas drillers argue that development will be curtailed if
they are not able to tap into foreign markets beyond those of
countries that have free trade agreements with the United
While the government has long allowed exports of natural gas
to Canada and Mexico via pipeline and LNG exports from Alaska,
this is the first time the United States is weighing substantial
gas exports more broadly
"As a nation we have already decided that exporting is
consistent with the national interest," said Congressman James
Lankford, the Oklahoma Republican who heads the House oversight
subcommittee on energy. "The only issue is how and when the
department will process the remaining LNG export applications."
It is essential the process move ahead "fairly and
expeditiously," Lankford added.
Lankford is a member of a working group backing increased
LNG exports that was founded last week by Ohio Congressmen Tim
Ryan, a Democrat, and Bill Johnson, a Republican. The group
plans to hold meetings and keep members informed of developments
on the export issue.
Nearly 20 projects have sought permission from the Energy
Department to export gas to new markets.
In his testimony, Smith reiterated that the department plans
to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Energy analysts have said that even with government approval
it is unlikely that most of the proposals will come to fruition,
citing high upfront costs of building export terminals and a
limited market for exports.
The department approved LNG exports from Cheniere Energy
Inc's Sabine Pass terminal in 2011, but afterward said
it would commission a study on the cumulative effects of exports
before weighing in on any more proposals.
Republicans on the panel pressed Smith on whether the Energy
Department had an official timeline for issuing its decisions,
stressing that the United States was competing against other
countries such Australia and Qatar in securing a limited number
of contracts in the global LNG market.
Smith declined to estimate when the department will act on
applications, noting that the comment period only wrapped up a
few weeks ago.
"It's our job to get to a defendable, transparent decision
as expeditiously as possible," Smith said. "We have a tremendous
sense of urgency in this process."
Congressman John Fleming, a Republican from Louisiana, also
questioned why the department released the NERA report to the
public last December when it first received the study from the
firm over the summer. Smith said the department had to ensure it
had a proper understanding of the report and that its questions
about the report were answered.
The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, an industry trade
group, expressed concern that the department was still unable to
offer any specific timing on decisions.
"The lack of regulatory certainty as to a timeline on mere
process is unfortunate and adversely impacts all applicants who
are waiting on DOE to restart its considerations," said Bill
Cooper, president of the trade group.