[PARIS] France's energy minister is considering closing the door to US shale gas just as American LNG exports to Europe and other ports ramp up.
Energy and Environment Minister Segolene Royal said Tuesday in comments to France's parliament that she will "examine from a legal standpoint" ways to ban imports of shale gas.
France barred fracking in 2011 because of environmental risks. Houston- based Cheniere Energy Inc has contracts to deliver liquefied natural gas to Engie SA, Electricite de France SA and Total SA.
"These companies will have to shift to providers to import only conventional liquefied gas" if the imports review leads to action, Ms Royal said.
The developments come as Cheniere shifts to commercial operations at its Sabine Pass liquefaction plant in Louisiana and prepares to ship contracted cargoes to buyers in Europe and elsewhere who have signed long-term deals.
Other LNG export projects have been facing headwinds from an emerging global supply glut that's depressing prices amid slowing demand from Asia.
French contract holders could swap their cargoes with third parties and have the US shale gas delivered elsewhere, Ted Michael, an LNG analyst for energy data provider Genscape Inc, said by telephone.
"The simplest thing to do would be a term swap between another party, such as Spain, which is importing from Trinidad and Tobago," Mr Michael said.
"They could simply swap out contracts so the gas that goes from Trinidad to Spain could now go to France and the gas that goes from Cheniere to France could now go to Spain."
Cheniere agreed to ship as many as 12 LNG cargoes a year to France's Montoir-de-Bretagne regasification terminal under a five-year contract, Engie said in a statement last October.
Those deliveries are expected to start in 2018. Cheniere's Corpus Christi, Texas, liquefaction plant now under construction is expected to be the primary source for supply under the Engie contract.
Cheniere also has signed long-term deals to deliver gas from Sabine Pass to EDF and Total and from Corpus Christi to EDF. EDF announced its deals in 2014 and 2015, while Total announced its deal in 2012.
Last month, Evgeniya Mazalova, a Total spokeswoman, said in an e-mail responding to questions that the French company still planned to buy from Cheniere's fifth Sabine Pass liquefaction unit, which has not been built.
A Cheniere spokeswoman, Faith Parker, did not immediately respond to an e-mail and phone message seeking comment Tuesday.
At an LNG conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, Cheniere's president of marketing, Meg Gentle, said Europe is a "natural market" for almost all US LNG.
Last month, Cheniere shipped an export cargo to Portugal, its first to the European continent. Eight cargoes have been sent from Sabine Pass since Cheniere became the first exporter of shale gas-produced LNG in February.
Hydraulic fracturing, the method used to extract oil and natural gas from shale formations deep underground, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into a well to break apart rock and release fuel.