Natural gas: We have it, and other countries want it. The Department of Energy (DOE) approved its fourth LNG export facility yesterday , paving the way for the U.S. to export more of its energy worldwide. Here's what you need to know.
Dominion (NYSE: D ) added its name to the short list of U.S. companies approved to export LNG to non-Free Trade Agreement countries around the world. Its $3.6 billion Cove Point plant in Maryland will flip the facility's focus on its head – from imports from across the globe , to exports to India and Japan.
Dominion has had the green light for exports to Free Trade countries since October 2011 , but this latest move greatly expands opportunities. The utility is approved to export up to 0.77 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day , and will split capacity evenly between Japanese Sumitomo Corporation and Indian GAIL Global. With terminal service agreements in the bag, this latest DOE approval ties the knot on sustainable sales for the next 20 years .
Who else loves LNG?
Currently, the DOE has approved exports of up to 5.6 billion cubic feet per day. Cheniere Energy (NYSEMKT: LNG ) will be the first company to actually take advantage of its approval when its own Sabine Pass facility starts fueling out in 2015 .
Freeport LNG already had its Texas facility approved in May , but the company is going back to DOE for more, requesting a doubling of its currently cleared capacity. It's no wonder, considering the company just signed $1.6 billion more in Asia deals two days ago, and already has contracts with two Japanese companies, as well as a 4.4 million tons per annum agreement BP (NYSE: BP ) .
Last month, a jointly-owned subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE: ETP ) and British BG Group became the third facility to get the go-ahead for global LNG exports. While Energy Transfer will handle the financing and construction end of things, BG Group will have exclusive export rights for the eventual gas. Construction should be under way by mid-2015, and will be operational by mid-2019 .
Is LNG liquid gold?
Approved natural gas exports currently equate to just 8% of domestic production levels . The future of natural gas exports depends on a variety of factors. Both nationally and globally, prices could shoot up if natural gas becomes the new transportation fuel. Companies like Clean Energy Fuels are hard at work to make that happen, and demand is expected to head higher – but how fast depends almost entirely on technology.
Most importantly, global supplies of natural gas play the biggest role in LNG exports. While the U.S. has a big piece of the natural gas pie, it's not the only player out there and production is ramping up worldwide. The Energy Information Administration expects the U.S. to become a net exporter of natural gas by 2019 , but rising costs could make other countries' less-accessible reserves more competitive.
Natural gas exports are the next logical step for U.S. energy markets. But investors will need to keep a close watch to make sure exports continue to make sense from both a domestic demand and international supply standpoint.
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