UPDATE 1-European countries anxious to buy U.S. natural gas - report

Fri Jan 17, 2014 3:51pm EST

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WASHINGTON Jan 17 (Reuters) - European countries dependent on Russia for natural gas are forming a group to lobby Washington to loosen export restrictions so they can buy the fuel from the United States, according to a media report.

National Journal reported on its website on Thursday that a dozen countries, most of them in Eastern Europe, are working with a Washington firm to establish a lobbying coalition with U.S. energy companies.

Two pro-export trade groups, America's Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute, are aware of the effort, but have not yet committed to participate.

"We certainly are interested in Eastern European markets and we are considering the best way to work with those countries to bring them America's clean and abundant natural gas, but we have not yet reached a formal agreement to work with one group or another in that endeavor," said ANGA spokesman Dan Whitten.

Countries likely to participate include Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia and Greece, National Journal reported.

"These countries are all still very heavily dependent upon Russia, and they're excited about getting into the LNG [liquefied natural gas] marketplace, and are looking for not only U.S. gas, but good, solid business relationships," the coalition's organizer, who was not identified, told National Journal.

The National Association of Manufacturers and the energy industry have been lobbying the Obama administration and Congress to relax barriers to natural gas exports.

LNG exports to countries that have free-trade agreements with the United States are automatically approved, but the U.S. Department of Energy must determine whether exports to other countries are in the national interest.

Some U.S. lawmakers and other companies, especially in the petrochemical sector, have urged the administration to go slow on approvals. Dow Chemical Co has been a leading opponent of speedy export approval, citing worries that expanding exports too quickly could make natural gas and coal less affordable domestically.

Some lawmakers and companies fear unfettered exports of LNG could drive up currently cheap prices of natural gas that have helped give a boost to manufacturing in the United States.

European representatives have been meeting with U.S. officials over the last year to explain why they want the American natural gas so badly, the National Journal reported.

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