Any uptick in exports to China would have to wait until the United States builds more of the expensive facilities where natural gas is cooled into liquid and loaded onto specialized tankers.
Only one LNG export terminal is operating in the Lower 48 states: Cheniere Energy‘s Sabine Pass facility in Louisiana. Alaska has also exported LNG, primarily to Japan, for decades.
Four other facilities under construction in Texas, Louisiana and Maryland are slated to come online by 2021, pushing U.S. export capacity to 9.2 billion cubic feet, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
On Friday, Ross blamed the Obama administration for holding up approvals for more than a dozen LNG export facilities. “Presumably that will be cleared out now and we will get that going,” he told CNBC.
As of January, 13 LNG export terminals were proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the body that approves them.
Proposed North American LNG export terminals, source: FERC
This week, the Trump administration moved toward getting those terminals approved by nominating two commissioners to FERC. The agency has been hobbled since January, when one of the three remaining commissioners stepped down, leaving FERC without a quorum.
But some analysts say market forces, not the pace of government approval, could be a more important factor.
Asia LNG prices have fallen 56 percent since 2014, during which time applications for six U.S. export terminals were withdrawn, investment banking firm FBR noted last week.
FBR acknowledges that the average review period for remaining projects has risen, but concluded that “market headwinds appear to be a larger contributor to slow development than just the 21% increase in project approval time.”
LNG capacity growth between 2015 and 2020 is projected to exceed demand growth by nearly 50 percent, causing utilization rates at export terminals to fall below 90 percent next year, FBR said, citing EIA data. It is expected to recover to 93 percent by 2021.
“Given these headwinds, investment in new capacity has virtually dried up, increasing the risk of tighter markets in the next decade,” FBR said.
However, Wood Mackenzie’s Di-Odoardo said the Commerce Department’s deal with China presents the opportunity for a “second wave of investment in US LNG” in the near term.
“Developers will now be able to target Chinese buyers directly, potentially supporting project financing. It could also support direct Chinese investment into liquefaction and upstream developments on U.S. soil,” he said.