* U.S. LNG exports not expected until 2016
* Washington looking at ways to overhaul approval process
* Long term, U.S. could become world's top emergency
(Adds analyst on what U.S. can do to expedite exports,
By Patricia Zengerle and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, March 6 There are discussions going
on at high levels within the U.S. government on how to use U.S.
natural gas resources as the country addresses the crisis in
Ukraine, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said on
U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, asked Burns
if "it would be fair to say" there are active discussions at
such levels about how to use natural gas to ease European
reluctance to enact sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, and to
"There certainly is," Burns responded during a Senate
Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
It is not clear what exactly the U.S. government could do in
the short-term to help, since new projects to export liquefied
natural gas (LNG) from the country's vast new shale fields are
still years away. Lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to
speed up the process of approving new projects to export LNG.
A natural gas analyst said U.S. LNG would not be an
alternative to Russian supply during the Ukraine crisis because
the first shipments will not enter European markets until 2016.
In the longer term, the United States could become the
world's primary emergency supplier, particularly for European
buyers, said Leslie Palti-Guzman, of the Eurasia Group political
Washington is in the process of assessing whether the
approval process at the Department of Energy and the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission needs to be overhauled, she said.
"With those potential changes, the U.S. government can send
a powerful market and psychological signal that the U.S. is open
for business and LNG exports get full political support,"
Palti-Guzman said. "But it is important to keep in mind that not
all projects approved by the DOE and the FERC will be built." As
more projects are approved, some of the later ones may find it
harder to obtain financing.
The DOE has approved six rounds of LNG exports since 2011,
and more than 20 are still waiting. The FERC has only approved 1
project to be built.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and other supporters of
increased U.S. energy exports have pounced on the crisis in
Ukraine to pressure the Obama administration to speed approval
of liquid natural gas exports, saying doing so could help keep
Russia in check.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces tightened their
grip on the Crimea peninsula in the Ukraine, concern heightened
that the crisis could worsen and Russia could slash its
shipments of natural gas to Europe and Ukraine by pipeline.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, a senior official said
the administration was "certainly aware" of the importance of
energy to Russia's economy but declined to discuss specific
steps the United States might be taken.
The official said that over time, "if Russia continues to
perpetuate this crisis, this violation of Ukraine's sovereignty
and territorial integrity, it is going to bring greater
isolation to their economy."
Russia is the world's top gas exporter. But the United
States has become the world's top natural gas producer in recent
years, due to hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and
(additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Bill
Trott, Andrew Hay and David Gregorio)