In a series of postings to Twitter on Wednesday night, FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee proposed pay increases, fellowship programs and a new regional office as ways to combat "personnel resource constraints inhibiting" an ongoing review of liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal applications.
"It's a difficult problem that didn't develop overnight," the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member tweeted. "We need creative, outside-the-box, long-term thinking to find solutions.
"One example could be adjusting our hiring practices to better compensate and attract more of the engineering and legal talent FERC desperately needs." Higher pay "would also help us retain the top-tier staff already working here.
"I believe in the markets. It's no secret that private sector can & will pay top-dollar for type of highly-skilled staff we need more of here [at] FERC." Changing the Commission's pay scale would take time, effort and possibly action by Congress, Chatterjee said.
FERC should also consider creating additional internships and new fellowships to attract employees, and opening a new regional office in Houston, "the center of the world” for natural gas “legal and technical expertise," according to Chatterjee.
"Already FERC has regional offices across [the] U.S.” which he said included Portland, OR, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta, “but for some reason, not Houston. International law firms and companies can leverage 21st century technology to collaborate across time zones and borders. FERC should also be able to."
Last month, FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre told a Senate panel that he is personally committed to seeing the Commission accelerate permitting interstate natural gas pipelines, while also hiring more staff to address a backlog of permitting for LNG export infrastructure. Concern that the Commission was short-staffed and faced a backlog in the permitting process for LNG export infrastructure was also raised during a House Subcommittee on Energy hearing last April.
The global LNG trade is rippling toward the second wave of investment, as more countries open their doors to industrial expansion and consumer needs, according to top gas executives. Still, no LNG projects were sanctioned in North America in 2017, and so far this year only Cheniere Energy Inc. has issued a final investment decision for its third train at its planned Corpus Christi export terminal in South Texas.
The Department of Energy currently lists 25 pending non-free trade agreement LNG export projects with cumulative volumes equivalent to 21.35 Bcf/d in the works. To date, DOE has issued 29 final long-term authorizations to export LNG and compressed natural gas to non-FTA countries with cumulative volumes totaling 21.35 Bcf/d, or around 7.79 Tcf/year.
Chatterjee's Tweetstorm comes at an unusually turbulent time for FERC. Less than a year after reestablishing a quorum, the Commission is about to lose one member, with Commissioner Robert Powelson scheduled to step down in mid-August to become president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies.
And in a break with precedent, FERC Chief of Staff Anthony Pugliese took to the airwaves on July 8 to talk politics and promote the Trump administration's positions on controversial energy policies.