U.S. not to limit LNG exports to non-FTA partners: energy secretary

Washington does not plan to limit U.S. liquefied natural gas exports to countries with which it has not signed free trade agreements, including Japan, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Sunday.

"We have no ceiling on the amount of export," Moniz said in an interview with Kyodo News, suggesting the United States will continue allowing LNG exports while checking domestic market prices.

The United States has become the world's largest natural gas producer following its development of shale gas.

Moniz said as long as U.S. natural gas exports remain modest, a sharp increase in domestic prices is unlikely and the expansion of exports is expected to lead to increased production.

In May, the United States said it would allow LNG exports to non-FTA partners. Japan had asked for a ban on such exports to be lifted amid the suspension of most of its nuclear reactors since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and rising energy import costs.

The United States is expected to start exporting LNG to Japanese utilities Chubu Electric Power Co. and Osaka Gas Co. as early as 2017.

Japan has reached tentative contracts and if approved, "Japan will have those imports," Moniz said, without commenting on specific deals.

The United States is producing about 680 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, Moniz said.

Whether shale gas would eventually replace coal would be "based upon market prices," he added.

On U.S. President Barack Obama's action plan to tackle global warming, Moniz said one of its key elements is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Nuclear has to be one of the options for a low carbon future," he said, adding that the U.S. government would offer assistance for the construction of new small reactors.