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Moniz: LNG exports on hold until data reviewed

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MATTHEW DALY | May 21, 2013 04:44 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Tuesday he will delay final decisions on about 20 applications to export liquefied natural gas until he reviews studies by the Energy Department and others on what impact the exports would have on domestic natural gas supplies and prices.

Moniz, who was sworn in Tuesday as the nation's new energy chief, said he promised during his confirmation hearing that he would "review what's out there" before acting on proposals to export natural gas. Among the things Moniz said he wants to review is whether the data in the studies are outdated.

A study commissioned by the Energy Department concluded last year that exporting natural gas would benefit the U.S. economy even if it led to higher domestic prices for the fuel.

Senate Energy Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and other critics have said the DOE study was flawed and relied on old data and unrealistic market assumptions.

Moniz, speaking to reporters after a brief speech to a forum on global energy efficiency, said he wants to complete his review as quickly as possible.

"Right now we have no plans of commissioning new studies, but everything's on the table until I have done my analysis," he said. "That's my commitment to Chairman Wyden."

Many U.S. energy companies are hoping to take advantage of an ongoing natural gas boom by exporting liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to Europe and Asia, where prices are far higher. About 20 applications to export LNG to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the United States are pending before the Energy Department.

Business groups support LNG exports as a way to create thousands of jobs and spur more U.S. production.

Consumer advocates and some manufacturers that use natural gas as a raw material or fuel source oppose exports, saying they could drive up domestic prices and increase manufacturing costs. Many environmental groups also oppose LNG exports because of fears that increased drilling could lead to environmental problems.

Natural gas results in fewer global warming emissions than other fossil fuels such as coal or oil, and Moniz has backed natural gas as a bridge fuel to reduce carbon dioxide and other pollutants that contribute to global warming. Environmental groups worry that drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could harm drinking water supplies or cause other problems.

Moniz replaces Steven Chu, who served as energy secretary in President Barack Obama's first term. Moniz served as an energy undersecretary in the Clinton administration. He joked Tuesday that his return to government was like a second marriage, "where you place hope over experience."

In an email to Energy Department employees, Moniz said he looks forward to advancing Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy, as well as promoting innovation in clean energy technology, boosting nuclear security and cleaning up nuclear waste left over from the Cold War.

"I believe we can, and must, commit ourselves to the highest standards of management excellence, delivering results for the American people as efficiently and effectively as possible and enhancing our capacity to succeed in our critical missions," Moniz said.

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