A bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers has called on Energy Secretary Steven Chu to expedite the approval of U.S. company applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to foreign countries.

"As members of Congress from states that overlay the Marcellus and Utica Shales, we urge you to move forward with the approval process for companies seeking to break into the global marketplace for liquefied natural gas," wrote Republican Rep. Bill Johnson and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, both from Ohio, in a letter to Chu Friday.

The lawmakers called on Chu to allow producers to capture a greater share of the growing global LNG market. "The United States has the supply, the technological capability, and the work force to accomplish this. There is, in fact, a global race already underway. Governments in Australia and Canada, for example, are rushing to support their producers' and LNG terminal developers' efforts to lock in customers and get facilities built that will allow them to sell gas overseas," Johnson and Ryan said.

"Meanwhile, in the U.S., the approval process for companies wishing to expand their market overseas is stalled. We are aware that the [Department of Energy] is conducting a macro-economic study of the potential impacts of exporting natural gas. However, that study was supposed to have been completed by the end of the first quarter of 2012 and its still appears to be months away from completion," they noted (see Daily GPI, June 4).

"The booming natural gas industry is helping to reverse economic downturns in many regions of the country, while the lower prices that this abundance of natural gas has brought is serving to revive once declining industries.

"In Youngstown, OH, a new $650 million steel mill is rising which will make the pipe used in drilling, while employing 350 new workers. In Natrium, WV, 400 construction workers are on site building a new plant that will process the gas after it is removed from the ground. In Beaver County, PA, Shell has announced initial plans to build an ethane 'cracker' that will result in thousands of construction jobs," the House lawmakers said.

"However, despite these exciting developments, the number of rigs drilling for natural gas today is at its lowest point in 13 years. Production is outpacing demand and depressing prices below the break-even point for some producers. As a result, many drillers are pulling back or moving their rigs to the oilfields. If demand does not increase, the economic benefits we are beginning to see will soon be gone."

Allowing producers to export their gas would help to offset the current supply and demand imbalance, Johnson and Ryan said.

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