UPDATE 3-US ends freeze on new natural gas exports, approves Texas terminal

Fri May 17, 2013 7:02pm EDT
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* Freeport first project approved since 2011

* Manufacturers concerned about unlimited gas exports

* Still unclear when DOE will act on other projects

* DOE says applications decided on case-by-case basis

* Lawmaker says more debate needed on gas exports

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) - The Obama administration opened the door to a new era of U.S. energy exports on Friday, approving the first liquefied natural gas project since the start of a heated debate over how best to benefit from the shale energy boom.

The Energy Department's approval of unrestricted natural gas exports from Freeport LNG's Quintana Island, Texas, terminal ends nearly a two-year pause in its review of export applications as the administration addressed concerns that sending unlimited amounts of domestic gas abroad could harm U.S. manufacturers.

While the approval had been widely expected after growing signals that President Barack Obama supported exports, the timing of the decision just one day after the Senate approved a new Energy Department secretary was a surprise. Many observers had expected the administration would wait until Ernest Moniz had settled into his new role before moving ahead.   Continued...