US could act on natural gas exports within weeks-Dominion CEO
* Dominion hopes for export decisions in few weeks
* DOE official said department could act "soon"
* Dominion may be third in line for DOE decision
* Waiting for arrival of new energy secretary
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, April 23 (Reuters) - The Obama administration may be just weeks from announcing decisions on whether some of more than a dozen companies will be allowed to export U.S. natural gas, the chief executive of one of the applicant firms said on Tuesday.
Thomas Farrell, the head of Dominion Resources, expressed confidence that the Energy Department would move forward on applications to export liquefied natural gas in the near future.
"We are hopeful to see some action in the next few weeks," Farrell said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Dominion's Cove Point is the third project in line for review by the department, which is thought likely to rule on applications in the order they were received.
Farrell told reporters his prediction was based on comments from acting Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman that the department would make decisions "very soon."
Poneman told Senators at a hearing last week that he did not think it would take "months" for the department to begin considering applications.
The Energy Department, which must authorize gas exports to all but a handful of countries with free trade agreements, halted its review of export projects after approving Cheniere's Sabine Pass terminal nearly two years ago.
Facing a dramatic shift in the U.S. energy landscape, the department said it would delay additional decisions pending the outcome of two studies examining the impact of gas exports on a number of criteria.
Companies have lined up to gain approval to export natural gas in recent years as advances in drilling technology have unlocked the nation's massive shale gas reserves.
Booming shale gas production has placed the United States in the position to be a net exporter, defying projections from early in the last decade that the nation would be increasingly dependent on gas imports.
But a vocal contingent of industrial gas users, led by Dow Chemical, has come out strongly against unlimited exports, warning that exports could lead to higher gas prices at home and harm the resurgent U.S. manufacturing sector.
A department-commissioned study by NERA Economic Consulting released in December found that LNG exports would provide net economic benefits for the United States, no matter what level of shipments was approved.
Critics of the report, including Senate energy committee chairman Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said the study used outdated data and did not fully assess the regional and industrial impacts of exports.
The government received nearly 200,000 responses to the study during its comment period that ended in February.
Analysts and industry observers have said they expect the department to begin acting on applications some time this summer.
Still, the department is thought to be waiting for Ernest Moniz, President Barack Obama's nominee to be U.S. Energy Secretary, to take the helm. The arrival of a new department head could impact the review process.
Moniz is expected to be confirmed soon by the full Senate, but faces opposition from South Carolina Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both Republicans, over the government's management of a nuclear waste disposal project in the state.
At his nomination hearing, Moniz said he would want to ensure that the department is using the best data in its review of LNG export applications.
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