Photographer: Lindsey Janies/Bloomberg

Cheniere Taps Obama Energy Official for Global Clean Gas Push

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  • Smith helped develop U.S. standards that weigh climate impact
  • Company seeks to help customers meet Paris Agreement limits

Cheniere Energy Inc., looking to help global customers meet climate goals under the Paris Accord, is turning to a former Obama administration energy expert as it expands its liquified natural gas exports.

Christopher Smith, who helped develop the U.S. Energy Department’s so-called life cycle emissions analysis for natural gas and coal, has joined Cheniere’s Washington office. The analysis was set up to assess the overall greenhouse gas impacts of a fuel, including during its production and use.

In his first public interview in his new role, the West Point graduate said he supports methane regulations to make gas use a cleaner option. Smith’s hiring by Cheniere, on track to become a top five global LNG supplier, comes as customers in Europe and Asia are shifting toward lower carbon sources, including use of natural gas to help integrate more renewables, Smith said.

“Every one of our customers resides in a country that’s part of the Paris climate accord,” he said in a telephone interview from Houston. “We have to think about what the drivers are for our customers,and that’s the bottom line for our growth opportunities.”

Smith steps into his new role at a time when the Trump Administration has disavowed the Paris Agreement. Still, much of the world has signed on to it, and accessing global markets is increasingly important for the U.S.’s long sheltered gas market. Switching from coal to gas supply is a leading reason the U.S. has been able to cut emissions from power plants and slash electricity costs. Other countries are looking to do the same.

Chevron Background

Smith has worked in the industry before, spending about a decade with Chevron Corp. starting in 1998.

During that time, he was involved with an effort to help Chevron secure supplies on a new Cheniere LNG import terminal, reacting to a perceived shortage of the fuel in the U.S. prior to the shale boom.  He also aided development of a cross-border pipeline for Colombia and Venezuela and served as chief of staff of Chevron’s global supply and trading leadership team.

In 2009, Smith joined the Energy Department. He first served as deputy assistant secretary for oil and natural gas, and then assistant secretary for the agency’s fossil energy unit.

Learning to throw punches and take them, while on the boxing team at West Point, helped in a way in his public role: “Indeed, I had to testify in front of Congress a number of times,” Smith said.

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