5 people to watch in LNG export battle

By Carlos Anchondo | 04/18/2024 06:39 AM EDT

Officials in government, business and advocacy are making their voices heard on the Department of Energy’s export approval pause.

Clockwise: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.); Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill; Brad Crabtree, assistant secretary for the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management; Roishetta Ozane, founder of the Vessel Project of Louisiana; and Venture Global CEO Michael Sabel.

Clockwise: Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.); Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill; Brad Crabtree, assistant secretary for the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management; Roishetta Ozane, founder of the Vessel Project of Louisiana; and Venture Global CEO Michael Sabel. U.S. Senate, Murrill campaign, DOE, LinkedIn, Venture Global LNG

The Department of Energy upset the U.S. energy industry in January by unveiling a pause on liquefied natural gas export approvals — and the uproar hasn’t died down yet.

The freeze at DOE affects shipments to non-free-trade-agreement countries, but it does not apply to already approved exports. The move has drawn praise from environmental groups and condemnation from the oil and gas sector.

DOE said the halt is happening so it can update the economic and environmental analyses the agency uses when deciding if LNG exports to non-FTA countries are in the public interest. The pause spurred a lawsuit led by Liz Murrill, Louisiana’s first female attorney general, and 15 other state attorneys general.


Murrill, a Republican, said the LNG freeze is linked to the presidential election in November, where President Joe Biden likely will face former President Donald Trump. Some lawmakers and oil and gas executives have said the pause could be used to curry favor among green groups and climate-focused voters.

“I mean, it seems to me like it’s 100 percent tied to this election,” Murrill said in an interview, “especially when you look at the fact that they refused to do this for a lot of very important reasons as recently as July.”

DOE and the Department of Justice declined to comment on the lawsuit led by Murrill. The White House did not respond to a request for comment when the states filed their complaint last month.

The Biden administration has not given a hard deadline for when the pause will end, but Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told POLITICO’s E&E News in March that the freeze would be in the rear-view mirror within a year.

Brad Crabtree, DOE’s assistant secretary for fossil energy and carbon management, told the American Petroleum Institute in a letter last month that updating the analyses used by DOE is “an integral part of DOE’s process for the public interest determination required by” the Natural Gas Act.

Today, the United States is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, with seven terminals operating on the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast. In January, the United States exported more than 396 billion cubic feet (bcf) of LNG to 30 countries — an 18 percent increase over January 2023, according to a DOE report released late last month.

Here are five people to watch on LNG as DOE’s analyses and legal action against the agency continue.

Liz Murrill

Louisiana’s former solicitor general was elected state attorney general in November, and she has come out swinging with lawsuits against Biden administration policies and rules.

Murrill, who succeeded now-Gov. Jeff Landry (R), filed a lawsuit in early March against the Securities and Exchange Commission after the independent federal agency approved a rule that requires companies to disclose their climate-related risks. That rule is now paused. Murrill’s office was joined by the state attorneys general for Mississippi and Texas.

Two weeks later, Murrill took on another high-profile energy issue: the Biden LNG pause.

In the complaint, Murrill and the other attorneys general characterized the pause as a “ban” — a term Granholm has pushed back on — and said it will lead to decreased investment in the natural gas industry and infrastructure.

“The LNG pause has an enormous impact on Louisiana,” Murrill told E&E News in late March. “Several of the major projects that were paused were based in Louisiana, and so that has a big economic impact here. And the pause itself has no basis in law. It’s an unlawful act by the [Biden] administration.”

Murrill referenced a DOE decision in mid-July to deny a petition from environmental groups that pressed the agency to issue rules outlining how DOE would decide if proposed LNG exports are consistent with the public interest.

“The whole pausing LNG exports is a terrible idea,” Murrill said.

Michael Sabel

One of the companies clashing with federal energy regulators is Venture Global, which is developing a planned LNG export terminal in Louisiana’s Cameron Parish.

The facility, known as the Calcasieu Pass 2 project, plans to liquefy and export 20 million metric tons of gas overseas a year. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — an independent federal agency — hasn’t put the project on its monthly meeting agenda, despite having released a final environmental impact statement for the proposal last year.

In February, Venture Global CEO Michael Sabel wrote to FERC about the project, calling on the body to issue an order authorizing the project “no later than” FERC’s meeting March 21.

That didn’t happen, prompting the company to raise questions in March about the commission’s independent nature in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Sabel, asked about the LNG pause last month at the CERAWeek by S&P Global conference, said he’s “optimistic that, in not too long, it’ll revert to norm, that we’re confident in the models that the DOE has run in the past in the Obama administration, saying that it is in the national interest to export LNG and as you export more, the benefits increase.”

“And we think that the models will show that,” Sabel added.

He also referenced the development of new coal plants in other parts of the world, as well as an announcement by Qatar in February to expand exports of LNG.

U.S. gas production is cleaner from a methane emissions standpoint than other markets, Sabel said.

“Venture Global is going to spend three and a half to four billion dollars this year on CP2, and we wouldn’t be doing that if we weren’t optimistic on the permitting outcome,” he said.

In recent weeks, backers of the CP2 project filed dozens of letters in support of the proposal to FERC.

Venture Global did not make Sabel available for an interview.

Tim Scott

Potential Trump running mate Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced a bill in late January — called the “Unlocking Domestic LNG Potential Act” — that would give FERC “sole authority” over the approval process for LNG exports.

Launching the bill, Scott said DOE’s pause under Biden is “pure politics.”

“President Biden is dead set on bowing to the far-left and making the U.S. and our allies more reliant on foreign adversaries like Russia,” Scott said in a news release in January. “Instead, I’m fighting to unleash America’s abundant natural resources, bolster our energy independence and safeguard our national security.”

The bill is a companion to a bill reintroduced by Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas). That bill — H.R. 7176 — passed the House in mid-February. Scott’s bill is unlikely to advance on its own, though it could be tucked into a funding bill or another vehicle if a deal was struck.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R) is considering tying aid to Ukraine to a measure that would force the Biden administration to nix the pause on LNG export approvals, a move that environmental groups are fighting to prevent.

Earlier this month, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden supports the pause on pending LNG export licenses “to evaluate the economic and climate impacts on consumers and communities.”

Scott was also among more than 35 Senate Republicans who wrote to the head of the Federal Trade Commission last month and urged her to “follow the facts” around mergers in the oil and gas industry, like Exxon’s proposed acquisition of Pioneer Natural Resources.

Roishetta Ozane

When Democrats and Gulf Coast leaders gathered on Capitol Hill in early February to cheer the administration’s LNG pause, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced Roishetta Ozane.

Ozane, the founder of the Vessel Project of Louisiana, stepped to the podium and said she’s not an activist but an environmental justice advocate who’s also a mom and grandmother.

Environmental justice is the effort to ease pollution that takes a disproportionately heavy toll on communities of color as well as low-income and rural communities.

Ozane also has been a leading advocate against the proposed CP2 project.

“The Department of Energy needs to go beyond simply updating studies when making public interest determinations,” Ozane said at that press conference, standing next to Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). “We are the public, and we say it is not in our best interest.”

“It is crucial for the DOE to thoroughly analyze the factors used in these determinations to ensure they accurately assess the full risk associated with LNG exports,” Ozane added.

Ozane, a native of northwestern Mississippi, said learning of the proposed build-out of LNG terminals in 2020 spurred her to become more involved in fighting LNG projects. She was already aware of the harms of existing facilities, she said.

“I decided to get more active and speak out when I learned how these projects were approved, the harms they were causing to my community and the climate,” Ozane said in an email to E&E News.

The fight now covers multiple fronts, Ozane said, including stopping permit approvals; pushing back against banks that fund LNG projects; and working against “insurance industries that are insuring these projects in communities where residents can’t afford homeowners insurance thereby they are [ensuring] environmental racism.”

Brad Crabtree

Only a few days after the administration’s LNG pause was announced, Brad Crabtree — assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management — described the “absolutely essential role that U.S. natural gas is playing” in the energy and national security of European countries and the United States’ allies in East Asia.

“U.S. natural gas really stepped into the breach” following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Crabtree said, speaking at Baker Hughes’ annual meeting in Italy.

He then pivoted into talking about the administration’s rationale for the pause, explaining that already authorized non-free trade agreement exports registers at 48 billion bcf per day.

“We were very careful to make sure that our decision does not affect near- and medium-term exports that are in construction and will come online in the next few years,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree, who noted that his office authorizes LNG exports, said, “It’s our legal obligation to determine whether the exports are in the public interest.” The problem, DOE has said, is the analyses the department is using are five years old.

“The world has utterly changed from five years ago, and we are duty-bound as a regulator to make sure that we’re using the most up-to-date information,” he said.

A DOE spokesperson declined last month to comment on whether Crabtree would be in charge of overseeing the LNG pause and what DOE has done since late January to make progress on the updated analyses the department will use.

In response to a separate inquiry in April about the department’s progress on the analyses, DOE said the work “is currently underway, and DOE staff are working diligently and expeditiously to gather the necessary data and update the analyses.”

Last month, Granholm told the House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee that the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Energy Technology Laboratory are involved in the review.