Under White House direction, the U.S. Energy Dept. has instituted a “temporary pause” in approving applications for liquefied natural gas projects seeking export licenses to countries that have no U.S. free trade agreements, the agency announced Jan. 26. 

DOE officials say they will update their analysis process for LNG applications before project reviews resume.

The pause directly impacts four proposed projects that are pending DOE approval. 

That number does not count additional projects—such as Venture Global’s planned Calcasieu Pass 2 LNG export terminal and pipeline project in Louisiana, estimated at $10 billion— which still needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before advancing to DOE review. 

Under the Natural Gas Act, FERC is responsible for approving construction and siting of onshore and near-shore LNG export facilities, and DOE approves LNG exports to non-free trade agreement countries, which includes only 20 countries, with none in Europe.

FERC has four pending applications and two other projects in pre-filing, records show.

“As our exports increase, we must review export applications using the most comprehensive, up-to-date analysis of the economic, environmental and national security considerations,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said during a press briefing. 

The U.S. is the world’s largest LNG exporter. Since DOE’s last full economic analysis of LNG exports was completed in 2018, domestic export capacity has more-than-tripled from 4 billion cu ft per day to 14 Bcf/d, according to Granholm. Added capacity of projects that have been approved but are still under construction raises the cumulative approved LNG export capacity to 48 Bcf/d, she added. 

“We need to have an even greater understanding of the market need for the long term supply and demand of energy resources and the environmental factors,” Granholm said. “So by updating the analysis process now, we will be better informed to avoid export authorizations that diminish our domestic energy availability, that weaken our security or that undermine our economy.”

DOE has approved seven LNG export authorizations during the Biden administration and reaffirmed eight others. 

According to FERC, the largest U.S. LNG export terminal in terms of capacity currently under construction is Tellurian Inc.’s 3.81 Bcf/d Driftwood LNG project in Calcasieu Parish, La. 

EPC contractor Bechtel Energy Inc. began construction in 2022. That project is followed in capacity by NextDecade’s 3.73 Bcf/d Rio Grande LNG in Brownsville, Texas, and Venture Global’s 3.32 Bcf/d Plaquemines project in Plaquemines Parish, La. 

Approving Projects

DOE's past evaluations of LNG export proposals have considered economic factors, geopolitical dynamics and environmental impacts. 

Senior administration officials speaking to reporters said the scale of projects like the 3.96 Bcf/d Calcasieu Pass 2 raises questions of whether the sector is overbuilding. 

Working with DOE national labs such as the National Energy Technology Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, officials aim to determine what exporting so much LNG means for domestic pricing, competitiveness of U.S. businesses and other economic, health, environmental and national security effects. 

“This is about lifting up the facts, making sure we understand the consequences for our frontline communities, for our climate in light of increasing science and understanding, for our economy, for our consumers, and for our allies and partners as we move forward,” said Ali Zaidi, White House national climate advisor.

The months-long process review is not a rulemaking but it will be followed by a public comment period, officials said. 

Energy Markets

Environmental advocates applauded the announcement, but the move has angered the natural gas sector. Dena Wiggins, president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association, in a statement called the pause and review “an ill-advised action”  and said it could both destabilize energy markets and damage U.S. relations with its allies. 

The U.S. LNG sector has helped supply parts of Europe that cut their imports from Russia since the start of the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for LNG, said in a statement that the pause sends a signal to European allies that they cannot rely on the U.S. to help with energy security. 

“It undermines U.S. energy leadership in the world without any benefit to our shared climate goals and with considerable risk to the U.S. economy by endangering future projects and the jobs associated with them, as well as destabilizing international energy markets,” Riedl said.

But environmental groups praised the Biden administration for making the move. Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice, said in a statement that building more LNG infrastructure “threatens to keep us locked into decades of fossil fuel use and climate-warming emissions.”

“As communities across the country face the devastating impacts of the climate crisis and fossil fuel pollution, it’s never been clearer that rubber-stamping LNG exports is not in the public interest,” she said.