* Trade groups, lawmakers call for DOE to approve exports
* Dow Chemical calls NERA report "unsound"
* Environmentalists link LNG exports to fracking
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, Jan 24 The first round of public
input on a potentially pivotal report on U.S. liquefied natural
gas exports ended on Thursday, with groups on both sides of the
issue honing their arguments in the high stakes fight over the
future of the U.S. gas bounty.
Only a little more than 600 responses to NERA Economic
Consulting study on the economic impact of LNG exports had been
posted to the Energy Department's website, with more expected,
as the department sifts through a deluge of last-minute
Environmentalists and a contingent of manufacturers lashed
out against NERA's rosy conclusion that shipping excess natural
gas would be a net benefit for the U.S. economy. Oil and gas
drillers and business groups, as expected, argued the report
supported the prompt approval of pending applications for gas
How to manage the nation's vast natural gas supplies -
unlocked in recent years by advances in drilling techniques -
has become an increasingly contentious issue.
The Obama administration commissioned the NERA report after
concerns were raised that exports could raise prices for
consumers and hurt manufacturers currently enjoying a resurgence
due to cheap gas.
In a nod to the issue's complexity, the department has taken
the unusual step of accepting replies to the statements
submitted in the initial round of comment over the next 30 days.
Companies, such as Exxon Mobil and Dominion,
have lined up to sell the surplus gas that has saturated the
U.S. market, but they must receive permission from the Energy
Department to ship gas to all but a handful of countries that
have free trade agreements with the United States.
Without exports to add another source of demand, drillers
have warned low prices will curtail some of the nation's booming
The issue of LNG exports has led to a split in the usually
united front of manufacturers and oil and gas drillers.
Major business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and
the National Association of Manufacturers have backed exports,
but a coalition of manufacturers and heavy industrial companies
has strongly opposed unlimited exports.
Dow Chemical, one of the most outspoken opponents of
unfettered exports, released a 50-page response to the NERA
report, calling the study's findings "unsound and incomplete."
"It grossly underestimates gas price increases, price
volatility and, in general, economic harm that could result from
unchecked LNG exports," Dow said, calling for an official
rulemaking to develop criteria for weighing whether exports are
in the national interest.
Dow, which recently quit the National Association of
Manufacturers over the dispute, outlined a number of defects in
the report, including its reliance on Energy Information
Administration gas demand projections from 2011.
Even using updated forecasts, the Center for Liquefied
Natural Gas argued the NERA study would reach similar
conclusions because the latest data projects even higher
domestic production and lower gas prices.
"Consequently, the overall impacts to the U.S. economy from
LNG exports would be even more positive," CLNG, an LNG trade
group, said in its comment.
A large number of responses have also come from
environmentalists worried that an increase in LNG exports would
lead to unfettered shale gas development and more hydraulic
fracturing, or fracking, a controversial drilling technique that
critics have blamed for water pollution.
INDUSTRY: FULL SPEED AHEAD
Supporters of exports argued that the NERA study thoroughly
rebutted concerns that sending U.S. gas abroad would, on
balance, harm the economy.
Dominion, with its plans to export gas from its Cove Point
terminal in Maryland, said the study showed that LNG exports
would only be feasible with strong international demand or low
U.S. production costs.
"These findings demonstrate that concerns that LNG exports
would raise domestic natural gas prices to economically harmful
levels are unfounded," Dominion said in comments filed with the
A bipartisan group of more than 100 lawmakers from the House
of Representatives also threw their support behind the report on
Led by Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican Bill Johnson, both
of Ohio, the group termed the report's finding "reassuring."
"Now is the time to expand domestic exportation of LNG,"
said the group, which included Republican Fred Upton, chairman
of the powerful House Energy and Commerce committee.