Jordan Cove LNG terminal is the seventh project to get such authorization, although it may be years before exports begin. The project must still go through an environmental review and final regulatory approval.
The terminal would prepare gas for shipment and export it to countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the United States. The facility would be able to export up to 800 million cubic feet of natural gas a day for 20 years.
The $7 billion project, led by Calgary, Alberta-based Veresen Inc., includes a 230-mile pipeline and a plant that would cool the gas into a liquid state for shipment on tankers. It would move natural gas from the Rocky Mountains and Canada to Asia, primarily Japan and India.
The push for natural gas exports comes amid the new abundance of cheap gas in the U.S. largely resulting from a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing. Also known as fracking, it involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow.
Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain access to huge stores of natural gas across the country, but fracking has raised concerns that it could lead to groundwater contamination and even earthquakes.
In recent days, House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional Republicans have urged the Obama administration to speed up natural gas exports and send more liquefied natural gas to Eastern Europe and Ukraine in light of its conflict with Russia over Crimea. Ukraine relies heavily on Russian natural gas shipments.
Boehner has called on President Barack Obama to "do everything possible to use American energy to reduce the dependency on Russia for our friends in Europe and around the globe."
However, even if the Energy Department approves all the pending permits from companies seeking to export natural gas, fuel would not begin flowing overseas for several years. Final approval has been given to just one of about two dozen proposed LNG export terminals in the past two years. Six other projects, including Jordan Cove, have received conditional backing—and most are not expected to begin operations until 2017 or later.
Developers of the Jordan Cove project say exports from the plant would not start until 2019. If final approval is granted, project construction could start next year.
Several lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., applauded the Energy Department's action.
"This announcement is exactly what Coos Bay, North Bend and America need: new jobs and new investment, while factoring in a changed geopolitical landscape through a case-by-case process," said Wyden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee and chaired the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee until last month. But the federal government should be prepared to "adjust course should any threat to American jobs or energy security emerge," he said.
Previously, Wyden had urged the Energy Department to go slow on export approvals, saying exports could drive up domestic energy prices.
Environmental groups and property owners opposed to the project have asked the state to reject the LNG terminal due to pollution from fracking, impacts on landowners whose property will be condemned to build the pipeline, and potential destruction of salmon habitat in the Rogue River and Coos Bay.
"We believe it is clear that the LNG terminal and pipeline will harm our natural resources and that the projects should not proceed," said the statement from Rogue Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Western Environmental Law Center.
Associated Press writers Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.