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Natural gas: Should America export its surplus?

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“By anyone’s measure, these are substantial cost increases,” said Paul Cicio, president of the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, in a statement in January after the EIA report was released. Decisions to approve export terminals "must be on an informed basis. Not a rubber stamp approval process," his group said in a statement.

Other private studies have put the increases both far higher – as well as far lower. There would be some domestic benefits from a price rise, some say. Jobs would be created, as large LNG export facilities are built and operated. Price increases would presumably drive new exploration. With today's prices fluctuating under $2 per thousand cubic feet, less than a quarter of where it was when it spiked four years ago – there's little incentive to drill or produce gas, industry officials say.

"There's more gas than we know what to do with," Charif Souki, CEO of Cheniere Energy Partners, which proposed the Sabine export facility, said in a March interview with Energy and Environment Daily television. "There's a number of wells that have not been connected because there's no place to send the gas, so sometimes too much of a good thing is too much."

Even so, the political optics might not support those calling for exports. First, EIA’s projections have already given pause to Department of Energy policymakers, who must determine if natural gas exports destined for nations that are not already signatories of a free-trade agreement with the US are in the public interest, energy analysts say.

"Some policymakers in both parties … do not want to impose new costs on voters or employers," writes Kevin Book, energy analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington-based energy research firm in a recent LNG analysis. "EIA’s projections may give these policymakers reasons to question or oppose pending DOE export licenses on economic and energy security grounds."

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