Three liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments have been sent to Japan out of the Kenai LNG plant on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula in recent weeks, according to operator ConocoPhillips.

The company expects to ship a total of four or five LNG cargoes to Asia this year, ConocoPhillips spokesman Natalie Lowman told NGI. The most recent cargo was loaded onto a ship that has a 125,000 cubic meter (about 4 million cubic feet) capacity, but whether it was filled to capacity was unclear.

The news comes less than a year after ConocoPhillips secured natural gas supply for the facility and said it was in talks for spot sales of LNG to Asian markets (see Daily GPI, Dec. 20, 2011).

In early 2011 ConocoPhillips considered mothballing the terminal after more than 40 years of selling LNG to Japan (see Daily GPI, Feb. 11, 2011), but operations were instead extended to last October to handle a one-off cargo (see Daily GPI, Oct. 24, 2011; Aug. 15, 2011).

"The reason that we didn't mothball the plant as planned is because of the tragic Japanese earthquake and tsunami that occurred about five weeks after we announced that we were going to mothball the plant, and [that] changed the LNG market," Lowman said. "We reached out to Japan and they said 'yes, we would like to do spot cargoes of LNG,' so we kept the plant operating in order to be able to do that."

The plant's export license is due to expire in 2013. Once the handful of spot cargoes have been delivered this year, "the future of the plant is uncertain," Lowman said. "It kind of just depends on gas supply in Cook Inlet and demand for LNG in Asia," she said.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has put the non-free trade agreement (FTA) permitting process for LNG export facilities on hold while it assesses the impact of LNG exports on domestic gas markets, but in June an Obama administration official hinted that more permits would be issued (see Daily GPI, June 22), and bipartisan groups of U.S. representatives have urged DOE to expedite approval of applications to export LNG (see Daily GPI, Aug. 8).

By the end of 2017 eight new export projects could be operational with a combined capacity of 10 Bcf/d, according to analysts at Raymond James & Associates Inc. (see Daily GPI, May 22). By Raymond James' count, there are now 14 projects to export liquefied North American gas at some stage of development.

Golden Pass Products LLC has applied to DOE to export LNG from the Golden Pass LNG receiving terminal at Sabine Pass, TX, to FTA countries (see related story).

Cheniere Energy Partners LP recently announced that it is moving forward with construction of the first two liquefaction trains for the Sabine Pass natural gas liquefaction project in Louisiana (see Daily GPI, Aug. 13). And DOE recently granted Excelerate Energy a long-term, multi-contract authorization to export LNG to FTA nations from its Lavaca Bay LNG project (see Daily GPI, Aug. 14).

Freeport LNG Expansion LP recently struck 20-year liquefaction tolling agreements with Osaka Gas Co. Ltd. and Chubu Electric Power Co. Inc. covering 100% of the liquefaction capacity of the first train of Freeport LNG's propose liquefaction and LNG loading facility near Freeport, TX (see Daily GPI, Aug.1).

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