UPDATE 2-El Paso applies for US LNG export license from Elba Island

Fri May 18, 2012 2:04pm EDT

* Company plans to export 0.5 bcfd of LNG

* Joins long list of projects aiming to export US gas

NEW YORK May 18 (Reuters) - U.S. natural gas producer and pipeline operator El Paso Corp has joined the growing ranks of companies hoping to export the abundant fuel overseas, after filing an export license for its import terminal in Georgia.

El Paso, through its subsidiary Southern LNG, is seeking authorization from the Department of Energy to export up to 0.5 billion cubic feet per day of liquefied natural gas from its Elba Island facility over 25 years, according to a filing on the DoE website on Friday.

After years of overseeing regular imports to Elba Island, El Paso, like dozens of other companies, is hoping to make the most of a U.S. supply glut by instead exporting LNG, which is natural gas cooled to a liquid for transport by tanker, to higher-paying markets across the globe.

"This would give us flexibility," an El Paso spokesman said. "The terminal will be able to import as well as export."

The application comes in the same week that two other export proposals were announced, one operated by Excelerate Energy off the U.S. Gulf Coast and another Shell-led proposal in western Canada.

The Elba Island application is for export to countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement. It will follow up with a second application for non-free trade agreement countries, it said.

It marks an about turn for El Paso which has invested heavily in import infrastructure in recent years, before a surge in U.S. shale gas production left that infrastructure largely unused.

Earlier this month, the company applied for an export license from its Gulf LNG import terminal in Pascagoula, Mississippi, which only began operations last June after taking years to build. Since starting up, the terminal has barely received a cargo.

Prolific production from U.S. shale deposits has led to record increases in U.S. natural gas output over the past year, flooding the market and pushing prices to ten-year lows near $2 per million British thermal units (mmBtu). The price of LNG in Asia, meanwhile, is above $18 per mmBtu.

Now eleven projects across the U.S. -- most of which were originally designed for import -- are seeking export licenses. The rush to build export facilities echoes last decade's scramble to build import terminals and is indicative of how fast the U.S. gas market has been turned on its head.

But the spate of new projects has raised concerns among consumer groups and politicians that export could push prices higher at home. So far, the proposed plants in the United States could together export about a quarter of U.S. daily production, though it is very unlikely that they will all get the go ahead.

The DoE has only approved one project -- Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass plant in Louisiana -- and has said it will consider the accumulative affect of exports when mulling other applications.

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