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Alaska plant again exporting liquefied natural gas

Becky Bohrer, Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- ConocoPhillips has resumed the export of liquefied natural gas to Asia from its plant in south-central Alaska, though the plant's future remains unclear.

ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said Wednesday she expects four to five cargo shipments to Asia this year. She declined to name the customers. The first shipment went out last month.

She said the company is making plans through the year, and then will again evaluate the plant's future. The plant's export license expires in March.

In February 2011, ConocoPhillips and then-partner Marathon Oil Corp. announced plans to close the plant in Nikiski, on the Kenai Peninsula, in the coming months, citing market changes that didn't support continued exports.

The plant, once the largest of its kind in the world, had been the sole supplier to Japan when it began exports in 1969, but it provided less than one-half of a percent of that market's supply by 2010, according to testimony given to a special legislative committee last year.

A month after the announcement, in March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, a tragedy that also created a market opportunity.

Lowman said the company wound up picking up six spot cargo shipments last year.

Liquefied natural gas production resumed earlier this year, after being halted for the winter.