A decade ago the idea of exporting natural gas from the U.S. would have been unthinkable. Now energy companies are lobbying federal regulators hard to get permission to sell cheap U.S. natural gas to overseas markets. A facility in Freeport, Texas becomes one of the first to receive conditional approval from the Energy Department to begin exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The controversial practice of natural gas fracking has lead to a paradigm shift in U.S energy policy. New drilling techniques have resulted in a surge in natural gas production in the U.S. But energy producers have become so good at extracting natural gas from the ground they are no longer able to get a premium price for their product in the U.S.
The supply of natural gas relative to the demand makes it a much less precious community than in yeas past. Prices have fallen dramatically. The solution according to many is to begin exporting U.S natural gas to foreign markets where natural gas trades at much higher prices.
There are major political and financial hurtles that have to be cleared, however, before exporting can begin. Exporting natural gas requires approval from the Energy Department. The Department must determine that the project is in the best interest of the country. In total there are around 20 applications pending to begin exporting.
Exporting natural gas is a capital intensive undertaking. In order to ship natural gas it must be cooled to liquid form (liquefied natural gas) and loaded onto large vessels for shipping. This necessitates infrastructure and large facilities; all of which means lots of money.
The Freeport facility can likely be up and running sooner than other projects because, ironically, it was originally built by Dow Chemical and several other partners as a LNG import facility. This was at a time when natural gas prices were much higher and there were concerns about having enough natural gas in the U.S to meet domestic demand. A consortium of investors will now be retooling the facility to ship LNG out of the country.
To the Texas consumer, this development is a mixed bag. Energy is a large part of the Texas economy. What is good for the energy industry is generally good for the state. However, once natural gas exports begin, it will almost certainly mean higher prices. Since Texas electricity rates a driven in large part by the price of natural gas, electric rates will almost certainly go up. This would first be reflected in the wholesale electricity market and ultimately be passed on to consumers by electricity providers.