The Energy Department is hoping to bypass environmental reviews for some small-volume natural gas exports as a way to tap smaller markets in South America and the Caribbean.
The agency announced its proposal for "small-scale natural gas exports" in Friday's Federal Register, which said the "proposed regulation is intended to expedite [the Energy Department's] processing" of natural gas export applications, "thereby reducing administrative burdens for the smallscale natural gas export market."
The proposal comes just a few weeks after President Trump signed an executive order directing agencies to find ways to streamline the federal permitting and review process when it comes to infrastructure projects, with a particular focus on reducing the burden of environmental reviews.
Natural gas exports are a cornerstone of Trump's pro-growth energy dominance agenda to boost energy production for both domestic needs and creating new markets abroad.
Larger shipments of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, require specialized tankers, and importing countries need to have import terminals outfitted to handle the heavy ships' cargoes to turn large quantities of liquid natural gas back into a gaseous commodity.
But in countries that don't have those resources, smaller shipments on barges, freighters and less technically-sophisticated flotillas are key, according to the agency.
The agency notice reads:
The emerging small-scale export market involves exports of small volumes of natural gas from the United States to countries primarily in, but not limited to, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Many of these countries do not generate enough natural gas demand to support the economies of scale required to justify large volumes of LNG imports from large-scale LNG terminals via conventional LNG tankers. The smallscale natural gas export market has developed as a solution to the practical and economic constraints limiting natural gas exports to these countries.
On top of that, shipping small-batch cargoes of natural gas to countries in Latin America means the Trump administration can forgo the rules that require it to publish the export application requests, while more significantly eliminating the agency's need to undergo a thorough environmental impact assessment required for much larger shipments, according to Friday's notice.
"DOE's regulations regarding notice of applications and procedures conducted on applications would no longer apply to applications" that satisfy certain criteria, according to the notice.
Those criteria include an application seeking to export natural gas "in a volume up to and including 0.14 billion cubic feet per day." The average U.S. home uses about 193 cubic feet of gas per day, according to industry data. Secondly, the Department of Energy's "approval of the application does not require an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969."
In approving these small-scale shipments of natural gas, the agency will use its authority under the Natural Gas Act to determine that these shipments are in the ‘‘public interest.''
"DOE proposes that applications that satisfy these criteria are requesting authorization for 'small-scale natural gas exports' and, as such, the exports are deemed to be consistent with the public interest under the [law]," according to the proposal.
"Specifically, this rulemaking is covered under the Categorical Exclusion found in the DOE's National Environmental Policy Act regulations ... , which applies to rulemakings that are strictly procedural," the notice read. "Accordingly, neither an [Environmental Impact Statement] nor an [Environmental Assessment] is required."