Williams CEO Warns U.S. LNG Export Terminal Permit Pause May Fuel Overseas Coal Consumption

(Reuters) — The Biden administration's pause on approving permits for U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals could backfire by boosting coal usage overseas, Alan Armstrong, CEO of U.S. natural gas pipeline operator Williams Companies, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Last month, the administration paused approvals for pending and future applications to export LNG from new projects as the Department of Energy (DOE) reviews the economic and environmental impacts of such projects.

Even with new projects paused, the U.S. is set to expand its LNG capacity.

International LNG consumers, especially in burgeoning electricity markets like Southeast Asia, are considering building infrastructure that relies on coal rather than natural gas in the wake of the pause, Armstrong said in an interview at Williams' Clean Energy Expo in Washington on Tuesday.

"We had a huge opportunity as a country to grab market share that was getting scared away by Russia's activity, and now we've pretty well destroyed what was on the bubble," Armstrong said.

LNG exports to Asia hit a record high of 26.49 million metric tons in December but was largely driven by China, according to data compiled by commodity analyst Kpler.

Meanwhile, China's coal production reached a record high of 4.66 billion metric tons in 2023, and its overall power generation, which is dominated by coal-fired plants, rose 8% year-on-year in December.

There have been no public announcements about altered projects in Southeast Asia since the U.S. pause.

However, some countries in the region, including Vietnam, that are on the fence about whether to build infrastructure to accommodate coal or LNG will be particularly affected by the pause, Armstrong said.

"They are thinking, 'we were on the bubble between coal and, and LNG, and (the U.S.) just made our mind up for us," he added.

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