CERAWEEK U.S., Europe could produce more LNG with regulatory assurances -executives

HOUSTON, March 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. and Europe could readily build more liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants to meet growing demand with the cooperation and assistance of regulatory authorities, executives said on Wednesday.

The United States currently exports roughly 12.6 billion cubic feet of LNG per day, and is on track to become the world's largest LNG exporter later this year. However, after a large number of decisions in 2019 to build new terminals, developers have approved just one project in the past two years.

U.S. LNG developers have cheap gas and operating skills but have been hamstrung by U.S. regulatory uncertainty in expanding operations, Michael Smith, chief executive of Freeport LNG, said at the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

"Unfortunately, there is not a lot of LNG coming online in the U.S. because there wasn't anything sanctioned for years," Smith said.

The United States has seen a two-year logjam of new LNG projects, as low natural gas prices, a trade war with China, the coronavirus pandemic and investors' desire for better returns resulted in a pullback in spending. read more

A decision on a proposed 5 million tonne-per-annum expansion to its Freeport, Texas, facility could come early next year, Smith said. Originally, the company had hoped to greenlight the expansion by the end of 2020.

"Unfortunately, our administration buckets (natural gas) in the same vein as every other fossil fuel," Smith said. "It has not seen the wisdom of how natural gas can help the environment."

Burning natural gas emits 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil, but overall natural gas emissions are up by about 43% nationwide since 2005, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Marco Alvera, CEO of natural gas services and infrastructure firm SNAM, estimated Europe could build enough re-gas plants to meet the region's needs for between 20 billion and 25 billion euros.

Reporting by Marcy de Luna; writing by Gary McWilliams; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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