Congressman introduces bills to stop US natgas exports

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:49pm EST

WASHINGTON Feb 14 (Reuters) - The United States should stop exports of natural gas to prevent domestic prices from rising, Democratic Congressman Edward Markey said on Tuesday while introducing two bills in the House of Representatives to prevent shipments.

The bills, which would face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House, come as U.S. regulators consider applications for exports of a glut of natural gas that has weighed down prices and caused some companies to step back from drilling.

One of the bills from Markey, an outspoken critic of the oil and gas industry, would prevent the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from approving any natural gas export terminals until 2025.

The other bill would prevent exports of natural gas drilled on federal lands, and would ban pipelines crossing federal lands from carrying natural gas destined for export. It was cosponsored by Rush Holt, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey.

"Low natural gas prices are a competitive advantage for American businesses and a relief for American families, and exporting our natural gas would eliminate our economic edge and impose new costs on consumers," Markey said in a statement.

Front-month March natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange were trading around $2.50 per million British thermal units on Tuesday, rising from a 10-year low of $2.231 hit in late January that forced some producers to announce drilling cuts.

Markey has also tried to block exports of oil that would be carried by TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, but has so far been rebuffed in the House.

Under U.S. law, exports of natural gas to all but 15 countries that have free trade agreements with the United States must get approval from the Energy Department, and FERC must issue a permit for the export terminal.

The Energy Department has approved one export application from Cheniere Energy for its Sabine Pass terminal, and other companies including Southern, BG, Dominion and Sempra have also requested permission.

The department has commissioned a study of the economic impacts of natural gas exports, expected sometime this spring, before making further decisions.

Last month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said exporting surplus U.S. natural gas could add as much as 9 percent a year to prices of the fuel for consumers and industry over the next two decades, if all the applications were approved.

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