January 14, 2016 / 5:23 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-Landmark U.S. LNG exports delayed to late February, March

(Recasts, adds company quotes and energy trader comment, stock price)

Jan 14 (Reuters) - The long-awaited first liquefied natural gas exports from the lower 48 U.S. states will have to wait another month or two due to mechanical problems at the Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, Cheniere Energy Partners LP said Thursday.

Cheniere said it expects to export the first cargo from the plant in late February or March. The company had expected that cargo to leave port in late January.

With expected growth in pipeline exports to Mexico and LNG exports to the world, the United States expects to transition from a net importer of gas to a net exporter by 2017 as the nation’s shale gas production continues to grow, according to federal energy forecasts.

Cheniere said construction of the 0.65 billion cubic feet per day first liquefaction train at Sabine Pass, Train 1, was completed well ahead of schedule and within budget.

Instrumentation issues, however, were discovered during the final phases of plant commissioning and a cool down is required for some additional work over the next few weeks, the company said.

“We remain well ahead of the guaranteed contractual schedule with Bechtel and anticipate no issues in meeting all contractual targets and guaranteed completion dates,” said Neal Shear, interim president and chief executive at Cheniere.

Bechtel, the U.S. construction firm building the project, told Cheniere that full LNG production at Train 1 is planned for late February.

The Energy Atlantic LNG tanker, which is scheduled to pick up the first cargo from Sabine Pass, has been sitting off the coast of the facility in the Gulf of Mexico.

Energy traders said the delay was not expected to result in much of a price reaction given the LNG oversupply already sloshing around the market.

Trains 2-5 are under construction at the plant. Analysts have said they would enter service between 2016 and 2019.

Cheniere plans to build six 0.65 bcfd trains at Sabine Pass. When all trains are operating, the plant will be able to export up to 5 percent of the current U.S. gas production.

Houston-based Cheniere Energy Inc owns and operates Sabine Pass through its general partner ownership interest in Cheniere Energy Partners and partial ownership interest in Cheniere Energy Partners Holdings LLC.

Cheniere stock was trading down 36 cents, or 1.1 percent, at $32.23 at around midday on Thursday. That is well below its one-year high of $82.29 hit in March 2015. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York and Oleg Vukmanovic in Milan; Editing by Alan Crosby)

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