Sen. Landrieu, in First Hearing as Chairwoman, Takes On Gas Exports

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has been a vocal supporter of expanding U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas.


Sen. Mary Landrieu, in her first hearing as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, will hear testimony on exporting American natural gas.

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Top energy experts head to the Senate on Tuesday morning, where the new head of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hopes to supercharge American exports – specifically, liquefied natural gas exports.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has been a vocal proponent of LNG exports, which she argues would further boost the U.S. energy economy and also reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, which supplies about 30 percent of the continent’s supply. She takes over the committee as a result of leadership changes brought about by the appointment of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to be the new ambassador to China. 

Exports, she said in a statement Monday, are “necessary to create more high-paying jobs in America and to solidify the U.S. as an energy superpower. A quick and efficient approval process to responsibly export natural gas from our shores will also reduce the stronghold that countries, like Russia, currently exercise over their neighbors.” 

Energy companies and a range of lawmakers have been calling on the Obama administration to speed up LNG exports. A 1938 law requires the Energy Department to determine whether proposed exports are in the public interest. An amendment in 1992 allowed faster evaluations for countries that have free trade agreements with the U.S., but other nations – including Japan and members of the European Union – must undergo a far longer review by the Energy Department.

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The actual export terminals must also go through a lengthy approval process, one that includes reviews by the Energy Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and can take months or years to complete.

Only one terminal, a $10-billion facility in Cameron Parish, La., has received the necessary approvals needed from the Energy Department and FERC. It’s scheduled to begin making shipments in late 2015.

Another terminal, Jordan Cove in southern Oregon, won conditional approval from the Energy Department Monday.

“Given the situation in Ukraine, this license sends a positive signal to our allies and to energy markets that the United States is ready to join the growing global gas trade,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and a top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said of the Oregon facility. 

Other industry groups and environmentalists, however, have opposed LNG exports. Chemical companies that make their products from natural gas, such as Dow Chemical Co., have expressed concern that exporting LNG will raise domestic prices. Environmental advocates, meanwhile, contend that exports will only increase America’s reliance on fossil fuels at the expense of cleaner renewables – and perhaps lead to the approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

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“There can be no doubt that we have crossed a line into an era when we could be massively exporting America’s natural gas, sending the jobs and consumer benefits abroad along with the fuel,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and an opponent of LNG exports, said in a statement. 

Replacing Russian gas with American exports, he and others argue, is a process that will take years. 

“We only have one approved license actually, and the molecules still aren’t going to flow for a while,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who has avoided taking any stance on LNG exports, said at a conference earlier this month in Houston. “So there’s still quite a ways to go.” 

Still, the name of Landrieu’s hearing left little doubt as to her stance: "How Natural Gas Exports Can Create Jobs and Turn U.S. into Energy Superpower."