By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration on Thursday approved exports of liquefied natural gas from the Alaska LNG project that one day could help the United States compete with Russia to ship natural gas from the Arctic to Asia.
The Department of Energy approved Alaska Gasline Development Corp’s (AGDC) exports of LNG from the project to countries with which the United States does not have a free trade agreement.
Backers of the roughly $39 billion project hope it will be operational by 2030 if it gets investments and all required permits. The LNG would be exported mainly to countries in Asia.
Frank Richards, president of Alaska-owned AGDC, said the company will review the 51-page decision as it develops the project, which will “provide Alaskans and U.S. allies with a significant source of low-emissions, responsibly produced energy consistent with international environmental priorities.”
AGDC has not yet reached a final investment decision on the project.
The Department of Energy did not evaluate the long-term viability of the project, and only approved only its exports, a spokesperson said.
Alaska LNG includes a liquefaction facility on the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska and a proposed 807-mile (1,300-km) pipeline to move gas stranded in northern Alaska across the state.
The project, for which exports were first approved by the administration of Donald Trump, has been opposed by environmental groups. The Biden administration undertook an environmental review of Alaska LNG, concluding it has economic and international security benefits and that opponents had failed to show the exports were not in the “public interest.”
The Biden administration modified the previous approval to prohibit venting of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide associated with the project into the atmosphere.
Still, the decision was decried by environmental groups as a “carbon bomb.”
“Joe Biden’s climate presidency is flying off the rails,” said Lukas Ross at Friends of the Earth. Ross said it was the second U.S. approval of a “fossil fuel mega-project” in as many months.
Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, said the decision cleared the way for additional lawsuits seeking to stop the project.
The Biden administration last month approved the ConocoPhillips $7 billion Willow oil and gas drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope.
Russia plans to start at end-2023 the first of three lines at its Arctic LNG-2 project, which is among the world’s largest LNG facilities.
The Biden administration is trying to approve more U.S. LNG exports as it competes with Russia, traditionally one of the world’s largest energy exporters.
Russia is under pressure from Western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, and the U.S. has boosted LNG exports to Europe after Moscow cut gas pipeline shipments to the continent.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an independent agency, has regulatory oversight of Alaska LNG’s siting, construction and operation. FERC approved construction in 2020.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Sandra Maler, Tom Hogue and Chizu Nomiyama)