Trump and Juncker agree to take steps to boost US LNG exports to Europe

  • The United States and and European Union agreed to work towards facilitating more U.S. natural gas shipments to the Continent.
  • EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU will build more terminals to import liquefied natural gas.
  • LNG stocks and shares of U.S. natural gas producers popped after the announcement.
The Asia Vision LNG carrier ship at the Cheniere Energy terminal in this aerial photograph taken over Sabine Pass, Texas, Feb. 24, 2016
Lindsey Janies | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Asia Vision LNG carrier ship at the Cheniere Energy terminal in this aerial photograph taken over Sabine Pass, Texas, Feb. 24, 2016

The United States and the European Union have agreed to work towards boosting natural gas trade, an issue that President Donald Trump pressed forcefully at this month's NATO meeting in Brussels.

Shipping more U.S. gas to Europe is one of the matters European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to work towards on Wednesday at a White House meeting with Trump, which yielded progress in a trade dispute between the United States and the EU.

"We agreed to a strengthened and strengthening of our strategic cooperation with respect to energy," Trump said in a press conference with Juncker. "The European Union wants to import more liquefied natural gas, LNG, from the United States and they're going to be a very very big buyer. We're going to make it much easier for them, but they're going to be a massive buyer of LNG."

Specifically, Juncker said the EU will build more terminals to import liquefied natural gas, or LNG, a form of the fuel super-chilled to liquid form for shipment by sea. He did not specify whether he was referring to new terminals in addition to those already planned.

In response to a request for clarification, an EU Commission spokesperson said the EU is supporting 14 LNG infrastructure projects, which are set to increase the Continent's capacity by 15 billion cubic meters by 2021.

"The 14 projects would still need the approval of the individual financing programmes to get the grants, so this is indeed not something that could have been taken for granted prior to the commitment that President Juncker gave yesterday to President Trump," Mina Andreeva, deputy chief spokeswoman for the Commission, told CNBC in an email.

There are currently 28 large-scale LNG import terminals in Europe — 24 in EU nations — with capacity to process 227 billion cubic meters, according to King & Spalding, a law firm actively involved in LNG deals. There are another 8 small-scale facilities in EU countries, and nine more terminals that could come online through 2021, according to the firm's count.

Juncker also wants the United States to streamline the process for granting export licenses, which is currently costly and time-intensive, Andreeva said. The Department of Energy and federal regulators are already taking steps to cut back red tape.

Juncker is also encouraging countries beyond the EU, including in North Africa, to build LNG infrastructure to facilitate U.S. exports, Andreeva added.

To be sure, Europe has already begun buying more natural gas from the United States, with Portugal and Spain emerging as two of the most steady buyers over the last two years. Britain, Italy, Lithuania and the Netherlands have each taken a few cargoes, while Malta and Poland have received a single shipment, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Trump took an assertive stance two weeks ago in Belgium, harshly criticizing Germany for backing a pipeline that would directly link the country with Russia, Europe's dominant natural gas supplier.

The Nord Stream 2 line has faced criticism because it would allow Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to bypass Ukraine's pipeline system. That would allow Moscow to exert political pressure on Eastern and Central Europe by shutting off gas supplies, while minimizing the impact on the lucrative Western European market.

The U.S. has long opposed the Nord Stream pipeline system. Trump took up the issue this month while also seeking to press Germany to spend more on defense and make concessions on trade with the United States. Washington has put forward U.S. LNG as a way for Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas.

"They'll be able to diversify their energy supply, which they want very much to do, and we have plenty of it," Trump said.

In prepared remarks, Juncker said strengthened cooperation on energy sends a message, although he did not say for whom the message was intended.

"The EU will build more terminals to import liquefied natural gas from the U.S. This is also a message for others," he said.

It is not yet clear how much Wednesday's meeting changed existing plans to bolster U.S.-European energy trade, but some LNG-related stocks appeared to get a boost from the news.

Shares of LNG export terminal operator Cheniere Energy popped after Dow Jones first reported the news, closing 2.8 percent higher on Wednesday and tacking on another 1.3 percent on Thursday. Tellurian, a company developing an integrated gas well-to-export terminal business, ended the day up 2 percent and rose 3.6 percent on Thursday.

U.S. oil and natural gas producers Cabot Oil & Gas, EOG Resources and Devon Energy were some of the top performers in the S&P Energy sector on Wednesday.

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