Lawmakers urge Obama to help make nation an exporter of natural gas

08 07, 2012 by The Hill

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday urged the Obama administration to green light liquefied natural gas facility construction across the country in order to turn the nation into a natural gas exporter.

The coalition of 10 Democrats and 34 Republicans from Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas said the expansion of domestic shale gas production in other parts of the country has given the United States a need to find markets outside its own borders.

They argued that if the U.S. cannot export its natural gas, production in their area will actually decline for lack of a market.

“With the discovery of vast shale plays in certain parts of our country, many states and regions are now enjoying the benefits of their own natural gas production,” the legislators wrote in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

“This has meant large portions of the country which were previously served by our region via pipeline now have a closer commodity at hand. As such, without the ability to market to international customers, this could have a severe impact on production in our states.”

Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) spearheaded the letter. Other notable signatories included House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and Texas Republican Reps. Ron Paul, Joe Barton and Lamar Smith.

More than 232 trillion cubic feet of recoverable liquefied natural gas exists in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, the lawmakers said, citing a 2011 Energy Department report.

The lawmakers said the Energy Department should expedite permits for the construction of plants, which they said would lead industry to green light infrastructure projects that would create jobs. They argued the expansion of natural gas production and its export could also help reduce the nation's trade deficit.

Exporting natural gas is more difficult in the current market than exporting crude oil. The tradeable global market is not yet big enough to center around a common price for natural gas, which causes prices to vary by region across the world.

Republicans in both the House and the Senate have pushed the administration to expand natural gas drilling offshore and onshore. They say greater access to natural gas would benefit the economy, and they argue the Obama administration’s green energy policies have done little to increase growth.

Environmental groups have protested plans to export natural gas. They contend opening the pipelines for international trade would amplify air pollution and expand hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, processes before full health and environmental risks are known.

Fracking injects high-pressure mixtures of sand, water and chemicals into tight rock formations to unleash natural gas. The method has been linked to contaminated drinking water and increased seismic activity.

President Obama initially disappointed environmental activists with his actions on energy, but more recently has acquiesced to their demands to slow oil and gas exploration. He has delayed ruling on the final piece of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would bring Canadian oil sands to Texas refineries in part because of environmentalist concerns. The federal government has final say over that pipeline because it crosses national borders.