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With eye on federal approvals, natural-gas exporter staffs up

Data: ClearView Energy Partners; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

Former President Obama's top international energy envoy has joined a natural-gas exporting company that's banking on swift federal reviews under the Trump administration and a booming export market in five years.

Amos Hochstein, who ran the State Department's energy bureau under Obama, is now a senior advisor and vice president at Tellurian Inc., a company founded last year that filed an application in April to the Trump administration to export liquefied natural gas.

Why it matters: Hochstein's hire shows how natural-gas exports are one of the only narrow policy areas where bipartisan support has endured the transition from Obama to Trump. Obama streamlined the federal review process from three steps to two, and Trump officials signaled last month it's a top priority for them too.

The backstory: Dozens of companies are seeking to export U.S. natural gas now that America is awash in cheap supplies of the fuel, but the U.S. doesn't have free trade deals with the countries that most want to import it. Approval to send gas to those countries requires a two-step federal review process. Beginning in 2012, the Obama administration approved roughly two dozen natural-gas export applications to countries the U.S. doesn't have free-trade agreements with, according to Energy Department data.

Quoted: Citing the shale natural gas boom over the last decade and advances in extraction technologies, Hochstein said the Obama administration was in a position to take advantage of the new resources for economic, environmental and geopolitical reasons.

"I think the Trump administration is recognizing the same and so far I can see it continuing the policy," Hochstein said. "It's an area where there has been a rather seamless transition."

Two levels deeper:

  1. Tellurian was founded by industry executive Charif Souki after he was ousted from Cheniere Energy, considered a pioneer of the natural-gas exporting sector. Tellurian, which went public earlier this year, has poached other top Cheniere executives, including current CEO Meg Gentle and lobbyist Ankit Desai. Desai, who joined the company in March, also raised money for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
  2. Tellurian also just hired Anita Orban, who was the energy envoy for Hungary's foreign ministry. The combined hires of Orban and Hochstein, who focused much of his time at the State Department on helping European nations wean themselves from Russian gas, signals Tellurian wants to focus heavily on that European market.

What's next: Most analysts predict a glut of natural gas in global markets in the coming years, due largely to America revving up its export potential so much since 2012. Hochstein says Tellurian's application, planned to come online in 2022, could take advantage of what he predicts could actually be a shortage of gas, fueled by economies finding new ways to use natural gas, such as in shipping fuel.'

Correction: A chart previously published with this post was inaccurate and showed an incorrect interpretation of cumulative gas export volumes over time. We have updated the chart.