February 22, 2012 / 1:27 AM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-Japan wants to seal U.S. LNG import deal in spring -media

* Accord may be reached at summit meeting in spring -report

* Japan LNG imports jump after Fukushima nuclear crisis

* Japan hopes to start buying US LNG from 2015

By Osamu Tsukimori

TOKYO, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Japan is hoping to reach an agreement to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from U.S. projects in Louisiana and Maryland at a bilateral summit meeting slated for this spring, the Yomiuri newspaper said on Wednesday.

Still reeling from the Fukushima nuclear crisis that has idled nearly all of it reactors amid public safety concerns, Japan has rapidly increased its LNG purchases, with imports growing 12 percent last year to a record 78.5 million tonnes.

Japan requested approval to import LNG from the United States at meeting last September and hopes to start purchases as early as 2015.

The Yomiuri report said the projects are expected to export a combined 17 million tonnes per year from 2016 if they get the green light from the U.S. government.

It added that Mitsubishi Corp, Chubu Electric Power and Tokyo Gas have expressed interest in taking part in the projects.

Record U.S. natural gas production, thanks to new drilling techniques, has led to a series of rival export proposals all hoping to sell LNG to higher paying, thirsty markets in Asia and Europe.

The report did not name the projects. But three projects in Louisiana, the Sabine Pass, Lake Charles and Cameron LNG projects and the Cove Point project in Maryland have applied for construction and export licenses, seeking long-term deals predominantly with buyers in Asia.

The operators of the projects must first gain permission from the U.S. government to export the LNG and such permission has only been granted once before, the paper said.

The wash of domestic shale gas hitting U.S. markets has sent domestic gas prices plummeting. But concerns that the fledgling movement to export LNG — which is natural gas cooled to a liquid for transport overseas — could drive up U.S. prices has purred opposition from consumer groups.

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