The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Tuesday established a process to accelerate approval of small-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects.

The final rules, to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register, would allow DOE to automatically approve gas export applications if they are no more than 51.75 Bcf annually, or 140 MMcf/d, and they do not require an environmental review. The rules are to take effect in a month.

Last fall, DOE said it wanted to expedite the approval process for the small-scale gas exports, primarily to countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. The rules revised how exports are authorized to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the United States.

DOE previously has approved more than 24 small-scale projects, but only two are currently in operation. While the U.S. onshore natural gas boom has increased interest, small-scale exports mostly have been limited to the Western Hemisphere.

Kickstarting small-scale exports should foster more diversity and competition in the global gas market, according to DOE. A proposal to help accelerate the projects was among two dozen measures passed in March by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but there was little momentum for it getting to the floor.

The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (CLNG) welcomed the final rules.

“Reducing hurdles, streamlining the process, and providing certainty for the U.S. LNG industry in a globally competitive and fast growing market is essential,” said Executive Director Charlie Riedl. “This rule will allow small-scale U.S. LNG exports to better supply smaller markets in the Caribbean and Latin America. This flexibility will benefit our citizens in Puerto Rico, and improve our competitive position in the LNG market.  

“We look forward to working with DOE and other stakeholders to strengthen U.S. LNG’s position as a global and flexible supplier, all while providing good paying jobs at home and reducing pollution and emissions abroad.”