UPDATE 1-U.S. mulls how to use natural gas resources in Ukraine crisis -top official

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WASHINGTON, March 6 (Reuters) - U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said on Thursday there are discussions at high levels within the U.S. government on how to use U.S. natural gas resources as the country addresses the crisis in Ukraine.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, asked Burns if "it would be fair to say" there are active discussions at such levels about how to use natural gas to assist in dealing with European reluctance to enact sanction over the Ukraine crisis, as well as with Ukraine.

"There certainly is," Burns responded during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

House Speaker John Boehner and other supporters of increased U.S. energy exports have pounced on the crisis in Ukraine to pressure the Obama administration to speed approval of liquid natural gas (LNG) exports, saying doing so could help keep Russia in check.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces tightened their grip on the Crimea peninsula in the Ukraine, concern heightened that the crisis could worsen and Russia could slash its shipments of natural gas to Europe, nearly half of which are sent through Ukraine by pipeline.

The United States has become the world's top natural gas producer in recent years, due to hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and horizontal drilling. Surplus U.S. energy could help provide Europe with an alternative to Russian supplies, supporters of increase exports say.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Bill Trott)