Japan’s bid to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement may make it easier for the nation to import U.S. liquefied natural gas, a prospect that is raising the hackles of environmental groups. Japan, the world’s largest LNG importer, said March 15 that it wants to be included in the accord, which now encompasses 11 nations in Asia and the Americas. Bringing Japan into a free- trade agreement may boost companies trying to export natural gas from the U.S., according to Randy Bhatia, an analyst with Capital One Southcoast in Houston.
The Energy Department is reviewing 16 applications to build export terminals to ship supplies to countries that don’t have free-trade agreements with the U.S. Among the companies seeking to export gas are Sempra Energy (SRE) of San Diego and Dominion Resources Inc. (D) of Richmond, Virginia. Cheniere Energy Inc. (LNG) has won approval for a facility that would begin exporting in 2015.
“Japan has been very clear that automatic access to LNG is one of the things they want,” Ilana Solomon, trade representative for the Sierra Club in Washington, an environmental group fighting those exports, said in an interview. Success for Japan would mean “we’ll be paying the price here, with more fracking in our backyards, near our schools, and next to our hospitals -- only to help a handful of big gas companies profit by shipping natural gas overseas.”
Incorporating Japan in the trade agreement would unite one country seeking new markets for booming supply with another nation desperate for imports to help it replace nuclear plants. Japan is increasingly reliant on imported gas for electricity, following the March 2011 tsunami that damaged several nuclear reactors, and it’s relying on supplies from countries such as Malaysia, Russia, Qatar, Australia and Indonesia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The U.S. is not one of its top suppliers now.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), Japan’s largest utility, Chubu Electric Power Co. (9502) and trading company Sumitomo Corp. (8053) all have agreements to buy LNG, gas cooled to a liquid for shipment by tankers, from proposed export plants that have yet to win government approval. In the U.S., booming shale-gas output has driven prices below those in much of Asia and Europe, creating an incentive for producers such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), for more exports.
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