HOUSTON (Dow Jones)
The U.S. Department of Energy said Friday it has authorized Cameron LNG to export liquefied natural gas, opening the door wider for U.S. natural gas companies to send their bounty overseas.
The export permit is only the third awarded in the U.S. It allows Cameron, a wholly-owned subsidiary of California-based natural gas distributor and marketer Sempra Energy (SRE), to ship up to 1.7 billion cubic feet a day of LNG from its in Cameron Parish, La., facility to countries possessing free-trade agreements with the U.S.
Sempra spokeswoman Paty Mitchell said the company was receiving "serious interest from significant credit-worthy counterparties" for LNG shipments. The company is still waiting for federal permission to export LNG to any country that doesn't have a free trade agreement with the U.S., Mitchell said. Cameron also has to win government approval to build export facilities at the Cameron Parish site.
The Energy department permit was awarded on Jan. 17 and is good for 20 years after the first export shipment, expected in 2017.
U.S. natural gas producers are hoping to sell the commodity overseas, where it can command much higher prices than in the U.S. New drilling technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have unlocked new sources of natural gas in the U.S., increasing supply and helping to drive prices to a 10-year low.
Natural gas futures settled at $2.343 a million British thermal units Friday. That was nearly $2 lower year over year and down from nearly $14 in July 2008. U.S. LNG exports could drive domestic natural gas prices up as much as 36% in 2018, according to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Cheniere Energy Inc. (LNG) won federal approval in May to export 2.2 billion cubic feet a day of LNG out of its facility in Sabine Pass, La.; the company plans to send its first shipment by 2016. ConocoPhillips' (COP) Kenai LNG plant in Alaska sent small amounts of LNG before suspending operations in 2011.
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