U.S. regulators approve Cheniere LNG export plant

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators granted Cheniere Energy approval on Monday to build an export plant for liquefied natural gas at Sabine Pass in Louisiana, the first project of its kind in the United States in 50 years.

The approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) paves the way for construction to begin at Sabine Pass LNG, which Cheniere says could be ready by 2015.

Cheniere will be able to export up to 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, the equivalent of 16 million tons per year (mtpa) of LNG, from Sabine Pass.

The plant will be built in two stages, the first consisting of two production units, or trains, of 4 mtpa each, FERC said.

“Today’s order finds that the project can be constructed and operated safely and with minimal environmental impacts,” FERC said in a statement.

Sabine Pass LNG will export abundant domestic natural gas via tanker to higher-paying markets across the globe. Customers from Europe, India and South Korea have already signed long-term supply deals with Cheniere.

Cheniere said it has engaged eight financial institutions to raise up to $4 billion in debt to help finance construction at Sabine.

In February, private equity firm Blackstone Group LP said it would invest $2 billion in Cheniere Energy Partners to help fund the plant’s construction.

Reporting by Edward McAllister in New York and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; Editing by Gary Hill and Dale Hudson