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U.S. senator launches bill to go slow on LNG exports despite Ukraine

WASHINGTON, March 6 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Edward Markey introduced a bill on Thursday to make the Obama administration's approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports more complicated, saying expedited permits will not help Ukraine and Europe manage Russia's control of fuel supply.

As Russia has tightened its grip on Ukraine's region of Crimea this week, a slew of U.S. lawmakers, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, have called on the Obama administration to speed up LNG approvals in order to protect Ukraine and Europe from Moscow's control over natural gas shipments via pipeline.

Russia supplies about 60 percent of Ukraine's gas and crimped supply to Ukraine and Europe most recently in 2009 and 2008.

The American Natural Gas Security and Consumer Protection Act would require the Department of Energy to weigh the impacts of proposed exports on consumers, the economy, and foreign policy.

The bill faces an uphill battle in both the Senate and the Republican-led House of Representatives. But it is evidence of a growing debate on whether exports of gas and crude from the U.S. energy boom can be used as diplomatic tools to fend off moves by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Department of Enegery (DOE) has approved six rounds of LNG exports since 2011 and only one has full federal approval. More than 20 projects have applied to export LNG, but broad shipments are not expected to begin until at least 2017.

Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said that the U.S. government does not control where private companies sell LNG. There is strong demand for U.S. LNG in Japan and India, which unlike Europe, have little access to gas sent via pipelines.

"We should not give away the domestic economic and national security rewards of our natural gas boom, and then just hope that the market reduces the risk of international conflicts," Markey said in a release.

"Using this crisis as an excuse to rapidly and massively expand exports of America's natural gas won't help Ukraine now," Markey said.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner, Editing by Franklin Paul and Sandra Maler)