U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Friday discussed potential opportunities for U.S. natural gas exports help meet Japan's growing energy needs with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other top Japanese officials during a dinner at the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Washington.
"Alaska is the ideal source of natural gas for Japan," Murkowski said. "For Japan, energy security equals national security, and it was clear from our discussions that the prime minister understands the strategic and economic benefits of Alaska's natural gas resources."
A significant amount of Japan's energy supplies are imported through the Strait of Hormuz, a 24 mile-wide choke point between Iran and Oman. Shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Alaska would face no such potential obstacles in the North Pacific Ocean.
"Alaska is uniquely situated to supply Japan's energy needs. Between Alaska and Japan there are no chokepoints, no pirates, no third nations with territorial claims -- only wide open water," Murkowski said. "And we certainly have plenty of gas to sell."
Alaska has 35 trillion cubic feet of proven conventional gas reserves on the North Slope, and the potential for 200 trillion cubic feet more both onshore and offshore of Alaska's northern coast. Meanwhile natural gas production from shale plays alone in the Lower 48 is predicted to double to 16.7 trillion cubic feet -- for a total projected supply of 33.1 trillion cubic feet -- by 2040, according to federal estimates.
Given the current economic situation, and the abundance of natural gas in Alaska and from Lower 48 shale plays, Murkowski said it only makes sense for the United States to help its friends.
"Japan is one of our strongest and closest allies and we should take every reasonable step to ensure their energy security," Murkowski said. "We stand to benefit from LNG exports as well by improving our trade imbalance with Asia -- this is a win-win, both for Japan and the United States."
Prime Minister Abe raised the issue of Japan's energy security and his country's need to secure a long-term, stable supply of natural gas when he met with President Obama earlier Friday. The prime minister told Murkowski he was encouraged by the tone of those discussions.
The prime minister is interested in importing U.S. natural gas to offset Japan's rising energy costs. Japan has suffered electricity shortages since a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor complex and the rest of the country's nuclear generating capacity -- accounting for 30 percent of the nation's power generation -- was taken offline.
In January, Japan, the world's third-largest economy, posted a record trade deficit of $17.4 billion because of the high cost of importing LNG.
Japan is hoping to switch a major portion of its power generation to natural gas, if it can secure an affordable supply. That presents a unique opportunity for Alaska, which has long been rich in resources, but short on markets, Murkowski said.
While the Department of Energy must approve export permits to non-free-trade countries, including Japan, Alaska has a 43-year history of shipping LNG to Japan.
Also attending the dinner were Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, and Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae.
Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has taken every opportunity to meet with Japanese officials to discuss Alaska's natural gas potential. In January she traveled to Japan to visit Fukushima, the site of the nuclear incident in 2011, and to meet with Japanese lawmakers.
Securing a long-term export contract with Japan would provide the financial support needed to build a multi-billion dollar pipeline and liquefaction project in Alaska, Murkowski said.
"It allows us the economy of scale to develop and build out the infrastructure we need to meet our own energy needs here at home, as well as serve the export market," Murkowski said. "That has to be part of the equation as well."
Murkowski is vice-chair of the U.S. Japan Inter-parliamentary Group and has pressed President Obama to discuss opportunities to export U.S. natural gas to Japan.