* Sees balance possible between exports, domestic industry
* "Sensitive" to concerns raised by chemical manufacturers
* Says expanded exports will drive development of gas resources
* "We have to get the scale right" - Coons
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Dec 12 The United States should be able to expand exports of natural gas without driving up prices that would hurt domestic companies that rely on low-cost supplies for manufacturing, Democratic Senator Chris Coons said on Wednesday.
"I'm cautiously supportive," said Coons, who represents Delaware, home to major chemical manufacturer DuPont and other industrial employers.
The Obama administration has been studying how domestic natural gas prices would respond if the many proposals to ship more liquefied natural gas abroad are approved.
Currently, exporters can ship the gas to countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement, but require permission from the government for other exports.
The White House is thought to be especially mindful of any impact on the manufacturing sector, which has gained from cheap supplies. It has put proposed projects on hold as it gathers comments on a study released last week showing exports would have a net benefit for the economy.
"My basic view: we're part of a global energy economy," said Coons, who is on the Senate Energy Committee.
"If we've got the capacity, the ability to export, and that drives the continued investment and development of natural gas resources - it makes sense," he told Reuters.
Companies such as Dow Chemical have expressed concern that exports could raise domestic prices and, as a result, their production costs. Natural gas is a key component of chemicals, fertilizer, steel and glass
Senators Ron Wyden, the incoming chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Agriculture Committee, have said they share those concerns.
Coons said he also is "sensitive" to the issues raised, and said the government needs to make sure it understands the economic impacts on manufacturing and energy prices.
"We have to get the scale (of exports) right. We also frankly have to get environmental protection right," he said.