A Department of Energy (DOE) official told a Senate panel Thursday that the Trump administration is reviewing 14 energy bills, including one that calls for expedited permitting for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports and another to authorize leasing of underutilized storage facilities at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR).
DOE Undersecretary Mark Menezes told the Senate Subcommittee on Energy that the department "shares the goals of a lot of these bills," including S 3495, aka the LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act, and S 3618, aka the SPR Reform Act.
"We share some of the concerns that the bills try to address," Menezes said. "We are committed to making decisions on natural gas export applications expeditiously, once the agency has all the information necessary to make the required public interest determination. Additionally, the department supports an effective modernization of the SPR."
S 3495, introduced last September by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), calls for DOE to issue a final decision within 45 days for any application to build, expand or operate LNG export facilities that also require authorization from either the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the U.S. Maritime Administration. DOE would need to make the decision after the conclusion of any review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Meanwhile, S 3618 would amend the Energy Policy and Conservation Act by allowing DOE to lease, through a pilot program, up to 200 million bbl of storage capacity at SPR to private entities and foreign governments. The bill was introduced two weeks ago by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
"We think this is important because it will help keep the SPR in good working order, saving taxpayers money by ensuring costs for upgrades are included in the lease agreement," Cassidy said at Thursday's hearing. "Successfully doing so could attract investment into approving facility operations to be responsive to commercial needs."
Cassidy added that the SPR bill would not increase the use of fossil fuels, but would rather allow fossil fuels that are going to be used to be stored.
"It exemplifies the original motto of the Environmental Protection Agency EPA, 'reduce, reuse, recycle,'" Cassidy said. "We are going to reuse and recycle capacity that otherwise would not be used. The carbon footprint will be lower because energy will not be used to create new caverns, rather we will just reuse and recycle and reduce the need for new capacity with this bill."
Menezes said DOE "supports the goals of the bill and supports what the bill is attempting to do." He briefly mentioned the 2012 collapse of a salt dome in Assumption Parish, LA.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) asked Menezes if he thought DOE "could realistically complete" its review of LNG export applications within 45 days.
"We look at it for 'authority to export,'" Menezes said. "We are not the agency to actually have to put together the NEPA analysis on the facility itself that's being built.
"We have been doing this now for several years, going back to the past administration, when we put in place a mechanism to determine the economic and competitive impacts [of LNG exports]. So we are much more fully informed now than when we began the process back in 2014."
Menezes then cited a DOE study, released last July, that found the amounts of LNG for pending permit applications, should they all be approved, would not have a significant impact on pricing or availability. King said he was skeptical.
"I don't see how you can significantly increase demand, in effect, by exporting and not affect domestic prices," King said. "We can't repeal the law of supply and demand."
When King asked if 45 days was sufficient for reviewing permit applications, Menezes said he was unsure, but added "we shouldn't be creating any unnecessary delays on things that we have great familiarity with.
"We rely on the applicants to get us information. I can't say this for all cases, but it really is incumbent on the applicants. They are very sophisticated, they know what our standards and requirements are, and so to the extent that applicants can have the information that we can review and file timely, then that of course allows us to do our job that much more efficiently."