Within the last 52 weeks, shares of Cheniere Energy Inc. have been a basement dweller, trading as low as $3.17. However, Monday's approval by FERC of the company's plans to develop liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capability on the Gulf Coast sparked a rally Tuesday. The stock had been climbing of late as it has appeared increasingly likely that LNG export will happen.

Cheniere units Sabine Pass LNG and Sabine Pass Liquefaction propose to construct and operate liquefaction and related facilities that would enable the companies to liquefy and export up to 2.2 Bcf, or 16 million metric tons per year, of domestically produced gas. The project would be sited at Sabine Pass' existing LNG import terminal in Cameron Parish, LA.

The Sabine project represents the first Lower 48 liquefaction/export facilities to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The project also is the first to receive Department of Energy (DOE) approval to export LNG to countries that are not parties to a free trade agreement with the United States. With multiple capacity contracts in hand, Cheniere just needs to come up with the money to move forward. On Monday it said it was working with eight banks to do just that.

"Obtaining approval from the FERC is one more milestone for our liquefaction project," said Cheniere CEO Charif Souki. "We will now finalize the financing arrangements in order to commence construction of the first two LNG trains of our liquefaction project promptly."

Still not a done deal, it does look like smooth sailing ahead for the eventual export of LNG from Sabine Pass, according to one analyst. "Our review of the 55 conditions placed on the Sabine Pass [FERC] certificate didn't reveal any hurdles that would appear to threaten a timely start of project construction," Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst Christine Tezak, said.

Cheniere Energy Inc. shares rallied on the news Tuesday, closing at $17.64, up nearly 4% from their previous close. The stock's 52-week range is $3.17-17.99. Intraday on Tuesday shares traded as high as $18.00.

Generally, those opposed to exporting LNG stand on two points: the belief that exports will raise gas prices paid by domestic consumers and/or the belief that exports will hasten shale play development and lead to more hydraulic fracturing (fracking) well stimulation, which some believe pollutes air and water.

DOE is currently awaiting completion of a study of the potential market impact of exports, and expectations are that when it is completed it will be released for public comment (see Daily GPI, March 27). Until then DOE has said it will not approve any more exports to countries that are not parties to free trade agreements with the United States. Cheniere got a jump on its competitors by applying for and getting its export authorizations before price escalation fears became widespread.

In its order approving the Sabine facilities, FERC did not address whether fracking causes pollution. The Sierra Club and the Gulf Coast Environmental Labor Coalition had argued that exports would lead to air and water pollution from fracking. In evaluating that argument, the Federal Energy Regulatory refused draw a straight, undotted line from exports back to pollution.

"...[I]mpacts which may result from additional shale gas development are not 'reasonably foreseeable' as defined by the CEQ [Council on Environmental Quality] regulations," FERC said in its order approving the Sabine Pass Liquefaction LLC/Sabine Pass LNG LP facilities [CP 11-72-000] (see Daily GPI, April 17). "Nor is such additional development, or any correlative potential impacts, an 'effect' of the project, as contemplated by the CEQ regulations, for purposes of a cumulative impact analysis."

The Sabine Pass liquefaction facilities would receive gas from the Creole Trail pipeline, with interconnects to Natural Gas Pipeline Company of America, Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co., Texas Eastern Transmission Co. and Trunkline Gas Co. These pipelines "...span states from Texas to Illinois to Pennsylvania to New Jersey and cross multiple shale gas, as well as conventional gas, plays," FERC said. "In addition, each of these interconnecting pipeline systems has a developed network of additional interconnects with other gas transmission pipeline companies that may cross additional gas plays."

Even though the Sabine Pass backers said their project would allow for the further development of shale gas, FERC found that there was no way to "estimate how much of the export volumes will come from current shale gas production and how much, if any, will be new production 'attributable' to the project.

"...[I]t is simply impractical for the Commission to consider impacts associated with additional shale gas development as cumulative indirect impacts resulting from the project which must, under CEQ regulations, be meaningfully analyzed by this Commission."

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