* Group says exports will raise prices, harm environment
* Companies seek to export abundant U.S. shale gas
* US DOE weighing whether exports are in national interest
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, Feb 7 The Sierra Club is
challenging plans to export liquefied natural gas from Maryland,
continuing its fight against the gas industry's push to sell the
nation's abundant shale gas abroad.
The group filed a formal objection with the Energy
Department against Dominion's Cove Point export project,
arguing that exports of liquefied natural gas would raise prices
for consumers and expand use of "destructive" drilling
techniques to extract shale gas.
"Liquefied natural gas is not only the dirtiest and most
polluting form of gas, but it also requires an increase in
fracking; a process we know to be unsafe and dangerous," Deb
Nardone, director of the group's natural gas reform campaign,
said in a statement.
The group called on the government to undertake an
environmental review that weighs the effects of drilling for
shale gas, an assessment that has not been included in previous
evaluations of gas export terminals.
The issue of LNG exports has become an increasingly hot
button issue as some lawmakers raise concerns that exports could
make natural gas more expensive for U.S. households and
Industry groups contend that exports are needed to maintain
strong domestic production, especially as the current gas glut
forces companies to cut back on output.
Advances in fracking, which involves injecting a cocktail of
water, sand and chemicals under ground to release the fuel, have
transformed the U.S. oil and natural gas industry.
Several years ago the industry was preparing to import LNG
to meet U.S. energy demands, but thanks to the sharp increase in
domestic shale gas production, companies are now seeking rights
to export gas from more than half a dozen terminals, including
Critics of shale gas production say fracking threatens
drinking water and allowing exports would increase the practice.
Environmentalists also charge that the amount of energy needed
to produce LNG is on par with coal.
Shale gas drillers strongly dispute the notion that fracking
is unsafe, saying the practice has been carried out for decades
without significantly harming the environment.
The Sierra Club has challenged two other terminals and plans
to actively oppose all planned export projects.
Cheniere Energy received an export permit for its
Sabine Pass terminal and has applied for another permit for a
second project. Companies including Southern, BG
and Sempra are also in the queue.
Under U.S. law, the Energy Department cannot deny exports
to 15 countries that have bilateral free trade agreements with
the United States, a list that will soon expand when pacts with
South Korea, Colombia and Panama take effect. Exports to other
countries are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The Energy Department is currently conducting a study
evaluating whether LNG exports are in the national interest,
which is expected to be released in the next few months.
"This is a historic and precedent setting moment," said
Christopher Smith, deputy assistant secretary in the
department's Office of Fossil Energy, at a utility
commissioners' meetings on Tuesday.
Smith said the government would consider a number of factors
including the impact on prices, energy security and the nation's
trade balance as it evaluates whether projects should go