Natural Gas Industry Could See Benefit From Increased Sanctions

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Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Heeding President Obama’s call for tougher sanctions on Russia, Congress approved bills that expand the scope of imposed economic restrictions to include freezing the assets of and denying visas for top Russian officials and others with close ties to Putin. The energy sector responded positively to the news and stocks are expected to rise as tensions with Russia increase and the House holds hearings on loosening restrictions surrounding natural gas exports.

The Senate and House easily passed HR 4278 yesterday, broadening the scope of the sanctions and approving a $1bn aid package to the Ukraine. As part of their response to escalating tensions, soon after the Congressional vote the State Department announced that they halted granting export licenses to Russia for defense items, including some used in their oil and gas industry. This expands the Commerce Department’s hold on issuing export licenses for items sent to Russia with a dual use that includes military capabilities, including software and some electronic devices. Both departments announced that they would not revoke any licenses already issued.

Aside from the energy sector, the news of increased sanctions did not have an immediate effect on the overall market, already concerned with other issues such as China and the possible interest rate hike. Oil prices, additionally bolstered by developments involving disruptions in Libya and Nigeria, climbed to their three week high above $101 and natural gas prices rose 3 percent, their highest in two weeks.

As the next round of sanctions could include Russia’s energy sector, Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM), who is partnered with state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft, its exploration of reserves in the Russian Arctic shelf as well as Siberian shale deposits could be affected. Obama has signaled that he won’t explore further sanctions unless Putin tries to expand his hold in the Crimean Peninsula. While Putin has stated that he has no intention of further operations, Exxon as well as other businesses with strong Russian ties seem safe, though recent massing of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border is a reminder of current geopolitical volatility and its possible effects on the market.

An emerging winner through recent Russian-American tensions is the natural gas market, and its future should be clearer as soon as the House Committee on Foreign Affairs debates loosening restrictions placed on the export of liquefied natural gas, eliminating Energy Department reviews and allowing exports to any of the 159 members of the World Trade Organization. The expected approvals are likely to raise the market value of authorized natural gas suppliers and exporters such as Sempra Energy (NYSE:SRE) and Veresen, Inc.

As reported by Reuters, vocal opponents to this measure include Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW), having stated concerns that the ability to substantially export is still years away. By then, international politics may have changed while the price of natural gas domestically could rise as demand rises. As part of a coalition called America’s Energy Advantage that also includes Alcoa, Eastman, and Nucor Corp, Dow’s concern is that increased energy bills could stifle manufacturing growth while natural would be exported to countries other than those affected by increased sanctions. Industry analysts argue that while the exports would not go directly to the affected areas, it could increase market flexibility.

Whether or not tensions and economic sanctions increase, current tensions with Russia has become increasingly beneficial for the natural gas industry. As there are no new facilities to expand production ready until 2015 and 52 percent of American homes use natural gas for heating, there is a greater possibility that should restrictions on natural gas exports are relaxed, there will be a rise in home heating bills next year.

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