U.S. Energy Dept still reviewing comments on natural gas exports

Tue Mar 19, 2013 12:50pm EDT

* House oversight panel to hold LNG export hearing on Tuesday

* DOE has not taken position LNG export report-official

* Lawmakers divided over need for export limits

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. Energy Department will tell lawmakers on Tuesday that it is wading through nearly 200,000 comments it received in response to a report on the impact of natural gas exports, as the debate over sending more U.S. gas abroad continues.

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 have called on the government to revisit the study using updated data and different criteria.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Christopher Smith will testify to lawmakers that the department has not taken a position on the NERA study or an earlier analysis by the Energy Information Administration.

"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.

Smith's testimony was released ahead of the committee's hearing on LNG exports scheduled for 3 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.

The last comment period on the export report wrapped up 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 countries that have free trade agreements with the United States.

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.

Lawmakers have been divided on the issue of LNG exports, with some, including Senate Energy Committee head Ron Wyden of Oregon, raising concerns that the nation risks trading away its energy security advantage if too many exports are allowed.

Still, more than 100 lawmakers in the House of Representatives have thrown their support behind the NERA export report.

Ohio Congressmen Tim Ryan, a Democrat, and Bill Johnson, a Republican, formed a working group last week backing increased LNG exports. The working group will hold meetings and keep members informed of developments on the export issue, the lawmakers said.