Fools who have been following the "will we, won't we?" liquefied natural gas export story know by now that Cheniere Energy (NYSEMKT:LNG) is the only company with federal regulatory approval to export LNG to non-Free Trade Agreement countries. However, as my Foolish colleague Tyler Crowe pointed out yesterday, Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) has gone full speed ahead on its LNG export plans, negotiating a deal with General Electric (NYSE:GE) to manufacture liquefaction equipment for its Maryland facility.
At the time, Tyler speculated that this forward progress by Dominion possibly indicated that the company might know more than we do about the likelihood that non-FTA approvals will come out of the DOE. Turns out, Tyler might have been on to something.
Sooner rather than later?
We may be on the verge of at least a few approvals. Check out what Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE:ETP) Chief Operating Officer Mackie McCrea had to say on its earning call earlier this week:
[It's] another project we're just extremely excited about; things are going as planned. We intend to file the resource report by the end of this year, and expect to get FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] approval within a year after that. Everybody knows that with the growth in shales; we need to export. I believe even our government is recognizing that. And since we're next in line, we are very optimistic within a short period of time, within 60 to 90 days, we will receive our non-FTA permits. So it's a project that we're looking forward to and we're moving forward and very excited about. ...There [are] indications that we're getting from Washington that they may move quicker on at least the next one or two decisions around non-FTA permits.
Who else is in the running?
There are more than 17 U.S. projects that necessitate permits for LNG export approval, and at least 10 of them have already begun the process. Again, the key here is the approval to ship to non-FTA countries. Why? The U.S. has free trade agreements with only 20 countries. That is extremely limiting as far as LNG sales go, and it makes the non-FTA export permission beyond crucial.
Outside of Dominion and Energy Transfer Partners, Royal Dutch Shell and El Paso Pipeline Partners are teaming up to convert EPB's import terminal on Elba Island, just off the Savannah coast, to an export facility. ExxonMobil and Sempra Energy (NYSE:SE), among others, have also thrown their hats in the ring. Both companies would export from the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Cheniere Energy has two distinct advantages over all of these other companies. It already has federal approval to export to non-FTA countries and has completed 26% of its first two liquefaction trains. That progress cannot be underestimated, given that construction takes a long time and is extremely costly.
However, all of these companies also have one giant advantage over Cheniere: They are incredibly diverse businesses that can weather the storm should LNG exports go the way of LNG imports. Cheniere, meanwhile, is a one-trick pony, and while it may be the first horse out of the gate, that doesn't guarantee long-term success for investors.