By KEITH JOHNSON and TENNILLE TRACY
WASHINGTON -- A long-awaited study commissioned by the Obama
administration said natural-gas exports will benefit the US
economy, potentially opening the door for several
multibillion-dollar export plants that could reshape the global
The study, which the administration had said would be
central to its decision on export approvals, analyzed more than
a dozen scenarios for US production and exports of natural
It found that "across all these scenarios, the US was projected to gain net economic
benefits from allowing [liquefied natural gas] exports.
Moreover, for every one of the market scenarios examined, net
economic benefits increased as the level of LNG
The export issue has divided gas producers and consumers.
Some large US manufacturers that use natural
gas have expressed fears that allowing too many exports
would undercut their competitiveness.
The looming prospect of the US becoming a major exporter of
gas underscores how the energy revolution is transforming
US economic prospects. Just a few years ago, many energy
companies were planning to build facilities to import LNG
into the US.
But thanks to the boom in hydraulic fracturing and
horizontal drilling, the US has in a short time become a
gas-producing powerhouse. That glut of cheap gas has helped
underpin a revival in manufacturing, helped lower electricity
costs for consumers, and given the US newfound flexibility in
dealing with other major gas producers around the world, such
as Russia and Iran.
The Department of Energy has withheld export permits for
companies seeking to ship gas overseas to nations such as Japan
that don't have free-trade agreements with the US, saying it
was waiting for the results of the study. By law, any such
exports must be in the national interest.
The study's endorsement gives the department a green light
to move ahead with approvals. There are currently 15 such
export projects awaiting approval, though
few energy analysts expect all proposed projects will be
Among the projects in the works is a plant
proposed by ExxonMobil Corp., the largest US gas producer, with
investment from Qatar.
The Energy Department said Wednesday that it would review
the economic impact study as well as public comments "prior to
making final determinations" on approving LNG export
applications. It said it would study each application on a
The glut of US gas has made it potentially profitable for
companies to ship LNG
to Europe and East Asia, where prices are much higher. But
despite the domestic boom, exports have been controversial in
Washington, and until Wednesday it wasn't clear how the report
would weigh the pluses and minuses.
Environmentalists fear that allowing exports will encourage
more natural-gas production, which many oppose because they
fear that hydraulic fracturing could contaminate
Other opponents, which include petrochemical companies that use gas
as a feedstock, fear that increasing
exports from the US will drive up the price of cheap domestic
gas closer to world prices, which could undermine the
competitive advantage US industry currently enjoys.
The study concluded that exports could raise the domestic
price of natural gas by between $0.22 per million cubic feet
and $1.11 per million cubic feet within five years. Natural
gas was trading in New York up 4% at $3.69 on Wednesday
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