After dancing around the issue for a few minutes last Thursday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said federal officials plan to “move expeditiously” on applications to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries without free trade agreements (FTA) with the United States.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) asked Moniz, who has been in office a little more than three weeks, to explain the Department of Energy’s (DOE) evaluation process for permits to export gas to non-FTA countries. “So far you’re doing a good job at not answering the question,” he told Moniz during the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the DOE budget for fiscal 2014.

Moniz then was a bit more specific, saying he expects to act expeditiously to review the licenses. “Absolutely,” Moniz responded, when asked if the department would make decisions on pending applications in the current calendar year. He said he’s getting ready to evaluate the applications on a case-by-case basis. Currently there are 16 applications pending at DOE to export gas to non-FTA countries.

So far, DOE has only approved two permits to export LNG to non-FTA countries. In late May, it conditionally authorized LNG exports of up to 1.4 Bcf/d from the Freeport LNG Terminal on Quintana Island, TX, to non-FTA countries for 20 years. DOE granted the first authorization for LNG exports to non-FTA countries in May 2011 to the Sabine Pass LNG Terminal in Cameron Parish, LA.

The decision on Freeport LNG’s application came about 24 hours after Moniz was confirmed by the Senate (see NGI, May 20).

LNG exports to countries that are parties to an FTA with the United States are presumed to be in the public interest and are routinely approved. It’s estimated that 19 projects have been awarded permits to export gas to FTA countries. But with respect to applications to export gas to non-FTA countries, companies have the heavy burden of showing that the exports will be consistent with the public interest.

Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) noted that the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus was met Thursday with Christopher Smith, the Obama administration’s point man on LNG, to discuss progress on the export applications. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) asked whether the $17 million allotted in the DOE budget for research into the safety of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) would be enough. “The DOE component is one part” of the research effort, Moniz said. The Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency participate in the inter-agency research effort to look into fracking and provide funding.

Moniz further told the House committee that he believes the risks associated with fracking are manageable. And despite several attempts by Republicans to convince him otherwise, Moniz held firm to his conviction that human beings are responsible for most — 99% or more — of climate change.

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