Saturday, March 26, 2022

Natural-Gas Industry Gets Boost as Biden Shifts Stance

Baby steps. Baby steps.

At WSJ, "Shares of large U.S. natural-gas companies rose as Biden softened position against fossil fuels":

President Biden’s pledge to boost U.S. liquefied natural-gas exports to Europe marks a further retreat from his hard-line stance against fossil fuels, sending share prices surging for natural-gas companies.

The president, who campaigned on a platform to transition the U.S. to cleaner energy, said Friday the U.S. is working to ship 50 billion cubic meters of LNG to Europe annually through at least 2030 to help the continent wean itself from dependence on Russian supplies.

The announcement came a day after Democrats on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission backtracked on new environmental policies, suspending implementation of heightened requirements on reviews that industry officials and Republicans said would impede gas-pipeline development.

Shares of large U.S. natural-gas companies rose 9% on average Friday as major stock indexes were mixed. Shares of EQT Corp and Southwestern Energy Co., two large producers, shot up to close about 12% and 16% higher.

Cheniere Energy Inc., LNG 5.46% the top U.S. exporter, was up about 5.5%. Tellurian Inc., which is seeking financing for an LNG project, soared 21%.

The gas industry’s prospects have been a concern among the sector’s executives because of Mr. Biden’s stance against fossil fuels. But the president has softened some of his positions in the wake of rising energy costs, which have been driven in part by the economic rebound from Covid-19, and more recently by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The White House pivot has also put the U.S. and its vast oil and gas reserves in shale rock back at the center of a global scramble for energy resources as a bulwark against petrostates and authoritarian regimes. The U.S. is the world’s largest oil and gas producer.

Daniel Yergin, the vice chairman of S&P Global and a noted oil-industry historian, called recent developments “a huge turn.”

“There’s a recognition now that shale—and particularly LNG—is a real geopolitical asset,” Mr. Yergin said.

Mr. Biden and his advisers have said they are still committed to ending the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, including gas, and will continue to fund renewable energy as part of their work with European allies. But they also acknowledged the need to deal with the reliance that exists today.

“While gas is still a substantial part of the energy mix, we want to make sure that the Europeans do not have to source that gas from Russia,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Friday.

Toby Rice, chief executive of top U.S. natural-gas producer EQT, said the Biden administration’s shift is an extremely encouraging political signal that natural gas will play a key role in the world’s future energy mix.

Mr. Rice said the U.S. could sharply increase LNG exports over time if companies build thousands of miles of new pipelines and billions worth of new LNG facilities. But unleashing that will require broader support for that infrastructure and speeding up the sluggish permitting process, he said.

“The problem we face is it takes longer to permit something than it takes us to build it,” Mr. Rice said. “The faster we move, the faster we move toward achieving our climate goals and providing energy security for people around the world.” Shippers of LNG have already sent most U.S. cargoes to European destinations this year, as prices have skyrocketed following Russia’s invasion. American exporters are moving cargoes as fast as physically possible and are on pace to send a record 11.4 billion cubic feet a day of LNG overseas this month, with more than 60% bound for Europe, according to market intelligence firm Kpler.

FERC has approved 13 LNG facilities across the U.S. that have remained unbuilt with the combined capacity to export about 25 billion cubic feet each day, according to FERC’s February update. Companies haven’t begun construction on those largely because they haven’t yet gathered enough supply agreements with customers overseas to finance the construction of those facilities.

Part of the arrangement between the U.S. and Europe is to ensure that European countries also come through to show they can take more U.S. gas. They are to build out their infrastructure to accept up to 50 billion cubic meters of additional U.S. supply a year between now and 2030, Mr. Sullivan said.

Before the Russian invasion, Biden administration officials had been hesitant about putting U.S. development money into fossil-fuel projects abroad...