Driftwood LNG rendering.jpg

The planned Driftwood LNG facility will be capable of producing up to 27.6 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year.

Tellurian said its Lake Charles natural gas project has been cleared by federal regulators, a major hurdle in the company's three-year quest to build the $30 billion export facility in an industry that has become a top energy priority for the Trump Administration.

Tellurian said Thursday the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave the green light to its Driftwood project and to build a 96-mile pipeline carrying natural gas down from the major pipeline hubs at Gillis and Eunice northeast of the project to the proposed gas liquefication and export facilities on the west bank of the Calcasieu River, south of Lake Charles.

Tellurian still has to receive a U.S. Army Corp of Engineers permit and a Department of Energy order for non-Free Trade Agreement exports, but both of those are expected very soon, a company spokesperson said.

The company said its final investment decision will then depend on the result of negotiations with potential investors and partners, as well as the terms it can negotiate with banks on debt financing for the project.

The Driftwood project, which is expected to support 6,400 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs once complete, won a controversial tax concession last year worth up to $2 billion over its first decade, the largest industrial tax break in Louisiana's history.

Driftwood project lands massive exemption for natural gas facility from Louisiana board

“Tellurian’s Driftwood LNG project is an important investment in Louisiana’s future,” U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said after the FERC approval. “A project like this will support Louisiana families by creating well-paying jobs."

The Trump-appointed FERC chairman, Neil Chatterjee, has been an enthusiastic backer of U.S. energy export projects, pushing especially hard on LNG exports.

FERC on Thursday also approved Port Arthur LNG, Sempra Energy's proposed export terminal in Jefferson County, Texas; and in February it gave a thumbs up to the Venture Global Calcasieu Pass LNG project in southwest Louisiana.

"The strategic implications of today's historic LNG project approvals will benefit not only the U.S. but the world," Chaterjee tweeted Thursday. "This has been one of (President Trump's) top energy priorities. It's a great day for America and a bad day for Russia!" the latter apparently referring to America's growing role as an energy exporter and rival to Russia, the world's largest gas exporter.

Chatterjee is pushing for at least 10 more LNG export terminal approvals across the U.S., including Mississippi and Florida, according to FERC officials.

Tellurian aims to raise $7 billion by selling stakes in its LNG throughput to partners, another $1 billion from private equity investors and $20 billion in project debt financing.

Earlier this month, France's Total said it would take a $500 million equity stake in Driftwood, on top of its $200 million direct stake in Tellurian, which went public two years ago.

India's Petronet and Switzerland-based commodities trading company Vitol also have said they will invest in the Driftwood project.

Our Views: Export markets for gas a huge win for Louisiana

Tellurian, which was founded by Egyptian-born Cherif Souki, who also co-founded Cheniere Energy, is looking to take advantage of low U.S. natural gas prices, the result of vast new discoveries in recent years, and bring them to world markets, especially fast-growing Asian markets.

The Driftwood pipeline will give it capacity to carry four billion cubic feet of gas a day to the export facility.

Separately, the company is proposing to build pipelines to bring in gas from the giant shale gas fields, the Haynesville in northwest Louisiana and the Permian in Texas. In a presentation to investors this month, Tellurian said it owns nearly 11,000 acres in the Haynesville formation, which gives it control over 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. It aims to grow its Haynesville gas reserves to 15 tcf.

Editor's note: The article was updated to correct the location of the Driftwood pipeline.


Follow Anthony McAuley on Twitter, @AnthonyMcAuley2.