Wannabe natural gas exporters scored a huge win last week when the Department of Energy (DoE) gave the green light to a second LNG facility for gas exports to countries that are not in a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Natural gas exports could pave the way for an energy economy revival in the U.S. – but there could be major losers, too. Let's take a closer look at three potential winners from natural gas exports, and I'll leave the losers for tomorrow.
Past and present LNG exporters
On Friday, the DoE approved the Freeport LNG project for export to countries not involved in a Free Trade Agreement. That expands potential exports from 20 countries to 195, including every BRIC country (Brazil, India, China, Russia) and the vast majority of emerging markets.
Freeport is partly owned by Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW), ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), and Osaka Gas, and is only the second project after Cheniere Energy's (NYSEMKT:LNG) Sabine Pass Terminal to receive such an approval. Freeport is cleared for 511 billion cubic feet of exports annually for the next 20 years, while Sabine got the go ahead in 2011 for 20 years at 803 billion cubic feet annually.
There are more than two-dozen applications in the DoE's review pile, and some investors are elated at the potential for more approvals. Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE) has a $10 billion LNG project ready to break ground in 2014, and announced last week that it has brought on three foreign financial partners to maximize export capacity.
Following the department's most recent approval, CEO Mark Snell issued a statement noting: "We applaud the Department of Energy's action and view it as an indication that other projects, including our own Cameron LNG, will receive this authorization soon." Not so fast, Snell.
President Obama noted earlier this month that the U.S. will most likely become a net exporter of natural gas by the end of this decade, but the DoE isn't opening the gas floodgates just yet. In its most recent ruling, the DoE states that it'll reject any applications that wouldn't "be consistent with the public interest." That means that if natural gas exports were to drive prices up too high for domestic companies and American consumers, the department would have wiggle room to toss export projects in the trash.
This latest news is undoubtedly a plus for LNG bulls, but overall policy is far from finished or perfected. With recent rises in natural gas prices, the "public interest" (not to mention U.S. utilities) could become increasingly concerned with costly natural gas. Will politics, prices, or profits win out in this LNG export battle? Comment below!