* Lawmakers say slow pace could hurt US LNG export projects
* DOE urged to consider multiple applications at a time
* Critics warn more exports could boost U.S. gas prices
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, July 10 (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Wednesday called on the Energy Department to speed up its planned review process for proposals to ship U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) abroad.
“We are concerned that the timeline for considering these applications may jeopardize our ability to retain a competitive position against other natural gas exporting nations,” more than two dozen lawmakers, including top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, said in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
The Energy Department, which recently approved an LNG export proposal, has signaled it may take about eight weeks to review each of 20 other proposals. The senators warned that the United States could lose out to international competition in the LNG market if the department does not hasten that pace.
Led by Republican Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma, and Democrat Mark Begich, of Alaska, the lawmakers asked the department whether it would consider evaluating multiple applications at a time and prioritizing projects that have established they are “commercially viable.”
The U.S. shale boom has put the nation in a position to be a major gas exporter. But some lawmakers including Senator-elect Edward Markey of Massachusetts have warned that unlimited exports could raise U.S. energy prices for manufacturers and consumers.
After a pause of nearly two years in decisions on LNG exports, the department approved Freeport LNG’s Quintana Island, Texas terminal in May. Its eight-week review process could mean imminent action on the next application, BG Group and Southern Union Company’s Lake Charles project.
But with 20 projects in line for permission to send U.S. gas to foreign countries, the lawmakers said waiting two months between project decisions would push the ruling on the final project out to two years from now.
Secretary Moniz has repeatedly said the department plans to consider applications on a case by case basis and said he does not plan to reconsider the queue it set up in December, which gives preference to projects that have filed for a license from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.