Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other top Japanese officials during their recent visit to Washington, DC, to discuss opportunities to export Alaska natural gas to Japan.

The visit between Murkowski and Abe came one day after Murkowski spelled out her “Energy 20/20” blueprint for the Alaska State Legislature, which calls for expanded natural gas exports (see NGI, Feb. 11). Murkowski is one of the biggest proponents of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) on Capitol Hill.

The prime minister in his first visit to Washington said he was encouraged by the tone of the discussions that he had with President Obama on the issue of gas exports, Murkowski said. Japan currently does not have a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. But it is considering joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, which could make it a free trade country, in which case applications to export Alaska LNG would be automatically approved by the Department of Energy, said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon.

“For Japan, energy security equals national security, and it was clear from our discussions that the prime minister understands the strategic and economic benefits of Alaska’s natural gas resources,” she said.

Currently, a significant percent of Japan’s energy supplies are imported though the Strait of Hormuz, a 24-mile wide choke point between Iran and Oman. Shipments of LNG from Alaska would face no such potential obstacles in the North Pacific Ocean. “Between Alaska and Japan there are no choke points, no pirates, no third nations with territorial claims.”

LNG exports to Japan would be a “win-win situation” for both countries. They would ensure Japan’s energy security and improve the United States’ trade imbalance with Asia, Murkowski said.

Moreover, securing a long-term export contract with Japan would provide the financial support needed to build a multi-billion dollar pipeline and liquefaction project in Alaska, she said. “It allows us the economy of scale to develop and build out the infrastructure we need to meet our own energy needs here at home, as well as serve the export market. That has to be part of the equation as well.”

Murkowski has seized every opportunity to promote exports of Alaska’s 35 Tcf of gas to Asian markets. Murkowski raised the issue earlier in May 2012 with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and, separately, with members of Japan’s Parliament.

Japan is seeking an energy resource to replace the nuclear power generation the country shut down after 2011’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake, tsunami and emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. In January, she traveled to Japan to visit Fukushima, the site of the nuclear incident, and to meet with Japanese lawmakers.

Japan is the world’s largest importer of natural gas, followed by South Korea.

The U.S. has supplied LNG to Japan for 40 years from ConocoPhillips’ Kenai plant in Alaska. The license for that small export plant is slated to run out this year. The plant had been headed for mothballs when Japan’s tsunami and nuclear crisis occurred. It remained open and has delivered spot cargoes to Japan. ConocoPhillips, Exxon, BP plc and TransCanada are considering a massive project to bring gas from Alaska’s North Slope to its southern coast for transport to Asian markets, with a particular emphasis on Japan (see NGI, Oct. 8, 2012).

Murkowski pitched to the ambassadors to the U.S. from Japan and South Korea on the benefits of importing natural gas from Alaska’s North Slope during a dinner last May at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Washington.

Both Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki of Japan and Ambassador Choi Young-jin of South Korea expressed interest in a potential Alaska natural gas pipeline and LNG project to deliver energy to Asian markets, she said.

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