Opinion: Approve LNG terminals, exports

05 08, 2012 by Daily Advertiser

If you're inclined to skip over business news on the way to sports, you might have missed an item that signals a change in Acadiana's economic prospects. It's a change for the better.

Sempra subsidiary Cameron LNG signed a deal with a French company, GDF Suez, to develop Cameron's Hackberry natural gas liquefaction plant. In three to four years, the terminal will provide Suez with 4 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas a year.

Liquefied natural gas exports mean that the industry that employs one Acadiana worker in 10 will be more secure.

The federal government should push ahead with approval for more LNG terminals and for the international trade authorizations that make them pay. The country's energy sources will be more secure, the environment will be better off and the national economy will benefit.

The industry rush to inland shale gas production helped Acadiana's economy through the 2008 meltdown and the BP oil spill period. We've only recently seen local oilfield service employment rise above 15,000 again after falling to 12,600 during the recent recession.

But as natural gas inventories grew, prices fell through the floor. So far, moves by utilities to begin generating more power with gas and by fleet managers to convert vehicles to compressed gas haven't come close to offsetting the effects of a mild winter on prices.

Export terminals like Cameron, Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass facility and Energy Transfer Equity LP near Lake Charles open the door to more customers and more demand. Cameron and Sabine Pass, which have already received federal approval for much of their projects, will mean $6 billion each in total investment, plus 3,000 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs when the facilities begin operating.

Their impact will go far beyond those numbers if the trend toward LNG exports continues. U.S. producers brought about 29 trillion cubic feet of gas out of the ground in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Between them, the Cameron and Cheniere terminals will be able to export the equivalent of 3.5 billion cubic feet of gas a day.

Our exports will find markets in Europe, where natural gas brings double the price, and in Asia, where the price can be four times as high as in the U.S. Japan in particular seems eager to import natural gas. That nation shut down its last operating nuclear plant for maintenance last week. Two of the big investors in the Cameron project are Japanese companies Mitsui and Mitsubishi.

These new LNG terminals represent the first step in reaping the full benefits of our immense natural gas reserves, especially in a region that has seasoned workers and the technical knowledge the industry requires.