- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Tuesday announced it is creating a new division within its Office of Energy Projects, to handle the growing "number and complexity" of applications to develop liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals.
- The United States has been a net exporter of natural gas for more than a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), though most of that serves Mexico and Canada via pipeline. LNG export capacity is ramping up quickly, however.
- Environmental activists were critical of FERC's reorganization, arguing the agency should spend more time examining the climate impacts of LNG export projects, "not opening up a new office to rubberstamp them more quickly."
There are currently 10 pending applications for LNG export terminals, according to FERC, and another six projects are in the commission's pre-filing process.
LNG exports from the United States averaged 3 Bcf/d in 2018 and recently hit a high of 4.1 Bcf/d in January 2019, according to EIA. Exports "rose steadily during 2018" as three new liquefaction units came online.
Total nameplate export capacity was 4.3 Bcf/d at the end of 2018, said EIA — but a major jump is coming.
"LNG export volumes are expected to continue to rise in 2019 as an additional 4.0 Bcf/d of liquefaction capacity is brought online by the end of the year," the agency said in May.
EIA forecasts that U.S. net gas exports will average 4.7 Bcf/d in 2019 and 7.5 Bcf/d in 2020, "with most of the growth attributable to increases in LNG exports."
FERC's new Division of LNG Facility Review & Inspection will include 20 existing LNG staff members in Washington, D.C., and eight additional full-time staffers recruited in the Houston area, at the new office.
"As the demand for U.S. LNG and the number and complexity of project applications has grown, the Commission has experienced a similar growth in the need for FERC to expand its oversight in this program area," FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee said in a statement.
Staff dedicated to LNG applications has been on the rise. FERC said in April 2018 the commission had only 13 staff dedicated to working on LNG engineering and review issues.
Despite efforts to reduce its use, gas production is rising, according to EIA forecasts.
Climate advocates were unimpressed with the commission's decision.
"If only there were any indication that this new capacity would be put toward adequately evaluating the climate impact of proposed LNG projects," Sierra Club Deputy Legislative Director Matthew Gravatt told Utility Dive. "FERC should be subjecting these projects to more rigorous scrutiny."