July 15, 2014 7:00 pm JST

US continues screening LNG export licenses: Department of Energy

TOSHIKI YAZAWA, Nikkei staff writer

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said the Department of Energy will continue examining whether to approve more liquefied natural gas export licenses to countries, including Japan, that have no free-trade agreements with the U.S.

    In an interview with The Nikkei, Moniz said the DOE has proposed streamlining its approval process for LNG exports by eliminating certain steps. "We believe this will make final approval of projects more efficient ... so that when projects have completed their environmental review, they will come directly to us for evaluation," he said.

   During the review period for this proposed rule change, the department will continue evaluating projects that have already received conditional approvals. Furthermore, it will continue screening additional requests for such approvals during the period.

    Moniz would not say exactly when, or if, his department will grant additional licences. But he added: "When we proposed the process change, we also announced that we would have new studies done to understand the economic (impacts of exporting more LNG)," he said. "That will be sometime early in 2015 -- we should have the economic analysis then."  

    So far, the DOE has authorized four LNG export projects in which Japanese companies are taking part. "Now, we had conditionally approved (projects that can export) 9.3 billion cubic feet per day, and that is nearly as much as Qatar currently exports," said Moniz. He explained that Qatar is by far the biggest LNG exporter, supplying about one-third of the world's LNG. 

    The surge in U.S. gas production due to the shale boom has not only helped the country reduce energy costs, but has also generated discussions on how LNG exports can serve broader U.S. strategic interests.

   U.S. officials have suggested that they are studying the possibilities of exporting LNG to China. During two-day bilateral strategic and economic talks with China in Beijing last week, Moniz appears to have made consulted Chinese officials about closer energy policy cooperation, including LNG exports.