ON BOARD AIR FORCE ONE: The White House on Friday appeared to play down the possibility of changing U.S. policy on exporting natural gas to address the situation in Ukraine.
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One that policy changes would not have an immediate effect and noted that natural gas stocks in Europe were above normal levels because of a mild winter.
“There is no indication currently that there’s much risk of a natural gas shortage in the region,” he said.
Europe and Ukraine are key export markets for natural gas from Russia, which has historically shut down pipelines as a pressure tactic. As Russia took control of the Crimean peninsula this week, its state-owned energy company Gazprom said it will stop discounting natural gas for Ukraine.
But widespread shipments of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) are still several years away.
The Department of Energy is working its way down a list of more than 20 applications for LNG export licenses. It has approved six licenses since 2011 and the first project is not expected to begin exporting until late next year. The other five still need approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which can be a lengthy process.
“So proposals to try to respond to the situation in Ukraine that are related to our policy on exporting natural gas would not have an immediate effect,” Earnest said.
Several lawmakers, including Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican from natural gas-rich Colorado, introduced bills this week to try to speed up the DOE approvals, but they face an uphill battle in the Senate.
Ukraine has no terminals to receive LNG shipments, so even if U.S. cargos were ready soon it is uncertain when the fuel could be delivered.
Washington instead is working to reduce Ukraine’s dependence on any single source of natural gas.
Ukraine and Eastern Europe could get more gas from Northern Africa, including Libya and Algeria, and from East Africa or the Mediterranean in the next couple of years.
Washington is also hoping Croatia will build an LNG receiving terminal, which could help Hungary, Slovenia and perhaps Ukraine.