WASHINGTON, Nov 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Energysaid on Friday it conditionally approved more exports ofliquefied natural gas from Freeport LNG in Texas, a move thatcould lead to increased shipments of the fuel in coming years.
The approval is the fifth by the U.S. government since 2011to countries with which it does not have a free trade agreement.
Subject to final regulatory approval, the facility isconditionally authorized to export an additional 0.4 billioncubic feet per day (Bcf/d) for a total rate of up to 1.8 Bcf/d,for a period of 20 years, the DOE said.
The agency initially granted Freeport approval to export 1.4Bcf/d of natural gas a day of LNG from this facility on May 17.
The oil industry's main trade group, the American PetroleumInstitute, welcomed the announcement and urged Energy SecretaryErnest Moniz to approve more projects at a faster pace.
"LNG exports will significantly reduce our trade deficit,grow the economy and support thousands of U.S. jobs," said ErikMilito, the director of upstream and industry operations at theAPI.
While the U.S. natural gas boom has led to a long list ofapplications to export the fuel, the Obama administration isweighing how fast to roll out approvals in order to keepdomestic gas prices in check. The last approval, on Sept. 11,was for Dominion Resources Inc in Cove Point Maryland.
Whitney Stanco, an energy policy analyst at GuggenheimSecurities, said the announcement was in line with expectations.
She added that President Barack Obama's nominee to beAssistant Secretary of the section of the DOE that oversees LNG,told a Senate hearing on Thursday the agency had no plans topause its economic impact studies.
Senator Ron Wyden, the chairman of the Senate energy andnatural resources committee, welcomed the news with caution, butpraised the energy department for "proceeding in a deliberativemanner" and considering applications on a "case-by-case basis."
"It is imperative these potential exports not have asignificant impact on domestic prices for families andmanufacturers, and in turn harm America's energy security,growth and employment," said Wyden.
Some manufacturers are worried that excessive exports ofnatural gas could lead to higher fuel bills and make it harderto open new domestic businesses.
"The Department of Energy continues to rely on obsolete dataand ill-defined standards to justify continued LNG exports,"said Jennifer Diggins, chairwoman of America's Energy Advantage,a consortium of manufacturers and commodity producers.
"Unchecked LNG exports will threaten America's manufacturingrenaissance, double or even triple prices for consumers, andnegatively impact investment and job creation," she added.
The National Association of Manufacturers on the other handpraised the decision. "We believe principles of free trade andopen markets should govern whether companies can move forwardand construct LNG export terminals on U.S. soil," said RossEisenberg, a vice president of energy and resources policy atNAM, in a release.
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