The Department of Energy (DOE) has granted NextDecade LLC’s Rio Grande LNG terminal authorization to export to natural gas to countries with free trade agreements (FTA), the company announced Wednesday.

The Woodlands, TX-based NextDecade said it received DOE authorization to export up to 27 million tons per annum (mtpa) of liquefied natural gas (LNG) — roughly equivalent to 3.6 Bcf/d — over 30 years. NextDecade plans to build the facility on a 1,000-acre industrial site at the Port of Brownsville in South Texas, near the Mexican border.

“NextDecade is well-positioned to meet international demand, and FTA export authorization is an important milestone towards making a final investment decision in 2017,” Chief Commercial Officer Alfonso Puga said. “The U.S. has an abundant supply of natural gas and we have found a robust appetite for LNG.”

NextDecade said it has signed 30 mtpa in nonbinding LNG agreements to date with customers across Europe and Asia, “demonstrating a continued desire for U.S.-produced LNG from customers around the world…”

FERC’s review of the Rio Grande LNG project is still pending. The company applied in May seeking approval for the LNG terminal and a related 137-mile pipeline connecting the facility to the Agua Dulce Hub (see Daily GPI, May 6).

The terminal would entail six liquefaction trains, each with a nominal capacity of 4.5 mtpa (i.e., a long-term average of 0.6 Bcf/d), four LNG tanks (each with capacity of 180,000 cubic meters), two marine jetties for ocean-going LNG vessels (with capacities ranging from 125,000 to 185,000 cubic meters), one turning basin, and four LNG and two natural gas liquids truck-loading bays, according to information filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [CP16-454, 455].

In June, lawyers representing Rio Grande LNG expressed their displeasure with intervenors and protestors disrupting FERC’s proceedings and disregarding its rules (see Daily GPI, June 23).

NextDecade said it expects to receive FERC approval for Rio Grande LNG next year, with shipments starting in 2020.