Our Views: State’s role in world crisis

03 25, 2014 by Advocate story; The Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA

Suddenly, Louisiana is at the center of a geopolitical crisis an ocean away.

While America has an interest in the stability of Europe — in fact, Louisiana as a major trading state has a profound interest — it is energy that is considered a key factor in the Ukraine crisis.

For more than a decade, the expansion of U.S. oil and natural gas supplies has been a huge factor in economic growth in this country. Money spent on imported energy has been saved; jobs have been created in oil patches once thought to be retired, including northern Louisiana’s hills.

The fracking revolution in drilling now is connected in many minds with the revolution in Ukraine because an abundance of natural gas seems to be an easy answer to Russian threats to cut off gas lines to both its neighbor Ukraine and to European countries opposing Russian expansion in the region. Moscow tends to use a cutoff of natural gas as a political threat; major pipelines for Europe run through Ukraine.

Can Louisiana gas be a response to Russian threats? It’s unfortunately just a little too good to be true. Exporting liquefied natural gas requires the building of new facilities or the renovation of existing facilities that were originally built to bring LNG tankers’ products into America’s pipeline system. The first major LNG terminal for export is still under renovation in Cameron Parish; a second for Louisiana is advancing through the permit process.

As the facilities come into commerce, they will sell on the international market, including to Asian countries used to importing natural gas from tankers and paying higher prices for it. As Russian President Vladimir Putin knows, the LNG exporting business in the United States is not yet ready to replace, magically, the amount of natural gas flowing through Russian pipelines to Ukraine and European countries. Certainly, this new revolution in energy in the United States is noticed. When Russia listed a few American legislators to sanction as part of its diplomatic response to U.S. criticism, among those it named was Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. As chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, she is an advocate of exporting LNG.

As Landrieu said, it’s an honor to be criticized directly by Putin’s regime. But travel sanctions for a senator who is not likely to go to Russia soon is mostly symbolic, and if it blocks her from a trip to Russia it would probably hurt only innocents. Landrieu is a leading advocate for adoption and has worked in the Senate and around the world for the cause, a principal reason she might travel to foreign capitals. Natural gas exports from the United States are not yet a balancing factor in the Ukraine crisis. Old-fashioned diplomacy is needed to force the Russians to retreat from their illegal annexation of Crimea.

But in the long term, who knows? America’s growing energy independence is certainly a good thing. To the extent that it has fueled America’s economy — as well as Louisiana’s — it is a positive factor in today’s crisis. One day, maybe, LNG exports will be a substantial factor in the international power calculus. Just not yet.