US lawmakers press Energy Dept on power to revoke LNG permits
* Lawmakers ask what would prompt DOE to revoke export permit
* DOE said would only use power under "extraordinary" circumstances
WASHINGTON, Aug 2 (Reuters) - The top lawmakers on the Senate energy committee asked the U.S. Department of Energy on Friday to clarify its authority to revoke permits for U.S. natural gas exports.
The Energy Department - which is balancing calls to speed up export approvals with other concerns that unlimited exports could raise U.S. energy costs - has said federal law would allow it to withdraw or modify, under certain conditions, any permits to export liquefied natural gas.
In a letter to the department, Senators Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski requested more details about what might prompt the agency to change a permit, assuming that a company had not violated its contract with the government.
"We believe greater transparency and certainty in connection with LNG decisions would be beneficial to all parties," the lawmakers said.
Wyden, of Oregon, is the Democratic chairman of the Senate energy panel, while Alaska's Murkowski is the leading Republican on the committee.
The lawmakers questioned whether the department had used its authority to modify or rescind an order under the Natural Gas Act in the past, how such action would be initiated, and the rights of permit holders in those situations.
In response to a similar inquiry from then-Congressman Edward Markey last year, the department said it did not intend to use its power to revoke permits as a "price maintenance mechanism" and that the department would only consider taking actions under "extraordinary circumstances."
The Obama administration's management of the natural gas export process has been in the spotlight since the U.S. shale gas boom put the nation in a position to become a major gas supplier to the world market.
Nearly two dozen projects await permission from the department to send gas overseas, although some analysts expect only a small number of those multi-billion dollar terminals to be completed.
Just two export applications have been approved in the past two years. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has pledged that more applications will be decided this year.
Wyden has been a leading skeptic in Congress of unfettered gas exports, stressing the need for caution. He has tried to seek common ground with Murkowski and other members of the committee, who are generally supportive of gas exports, as they explore the need for natural gas legislation.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Ken Wills)