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Australia hauls in gas majors to boost local supply, cap prices

* Australia faces gas shortage despite exports soaring

* Some companies call for domestic market gas reservation (Adds detail)

By Sonali Paul

SYDNEY, March 15 (Reuters) - Australia's top gas producers, led by ExxonMobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell, are set to come under fire to supply more gas to the local market and curb soaring prices in crisis talks on Wednesday with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The meeting comes days after Australia's energy market operator warned the country faces a gas crunch from 2019 that could trigger supply cuts to industry or power outages for lack of gas for generation.

This is happening even as the country is on track to become the world's top exporter of liquefied natural gas.

"What I'm seeking to do is to ensure we have action from the gas companies," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

"I can say that the gas companies, I have no doubt, are very well aware they operate with the benefit of a social licence from the Australian people. And they cannot expect to maintain that if, while billions of dollars of gas are being exported, Australians are left short."

Manufacturers who need gas have long complained they faced tight supplies and soaring prices as producers have been focused on supplying gas to the LNG plants that have locked in 20-year export contracts.

Companies like top Australian steel maker BlueScope Steel , fertiliser maker Incitec Pivot and packaging maker Orora Group have urged the government to impose a gas reservation for the domestic market or risk losing thousands of jobs as plants shut.

Both sides of government have resisted a gas reservation, acknowledging that would create sovereign risk for existing projects and threaten future investments in the country.

Local supply has been sapped by three LNG plants that opened in the state of Queensland over the past two years, which has tripled gas demand and sent gas prices rocketing from around A$6 a gigajoule (GJ) to as much as $22/GJ.

The plants are drawing some gas that would have gone to the southeastern market, as the coal seam gas fields in Queensland that feed the plants have not been as productive as expected.

Shell Australia, which runs the Queensland Curtis LNG plant and is sitting on undeveloped coal seam gas in the state, has defended its record, saying it has sold significant volumes into southeastern Australia and would continue to do so.

The states of New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory have worsened conditions by banning onshore drilling and fracking, locking resources in the ground which could fill much of the supply gap.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by James Dalgleish)