DRIESSEN: Fighting Russia with U.S. natural gas exports

Lawmakers should expedite aid to needy allies

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Russia’s decision last week to cut off natural gas shipments to Ukraine is adding urgency to discussions on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are considering legislation to speed approval of U.S. natural gas exports.

After the announcement was made, the House Energy and Commerce Committee noted, “For decades, Russia has been wielding its energy resources as a weapon to exert power over our allies, but the U.S. now has the opportunity to fight back against this Russian aggression with our own emerging energy prowess.”

Fighting Russian aggression by providing U.S. energy supplies to our allies is a new concept. For more than 40 years, the United States watched in frustration as its oil and natural gas output declined, oil imports climbed, and payments to foreign suppliers skyrocketed. The nation’s ethanol, wind and solar programs all had their roots in our perceived inability to find more petroleum within our borders.

In reality, though, America’s dependence on foreign petroleum was never due to a lack of oil and natural gas deposits. It arose because the United States lacked the political willpower to find and produce them on federal lands, and did not have the technology to develop them in state and private areas.

The advent of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing changed that dramatically. The technologies made the United States the world’s largest producer of natural gas and greatly increased domestic oil production. By enabling us to extract energy from vast shale formations, they put the nation well on its way to again being a global energy powerhouse.

Imagine what could happen if these new technologies could be employed on those still-closed onshore and offshore federal lands. America could easily have ample hydrocarbons to meet domestic needs, export natural gas and even some oil and refined products to allies, and keep oil prices manageable even in the midst of renewed Russian aggression and Middle East turmoil.

The United States now has more than a 100-year supply of natural gas — and could support its allies by shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) by tanker to foreign ports. That would counter Russian cutoffs and threatened price hikes or supply disruptions, and give our allies time to deploy fracking technologies in their own extensive shale deposits, as some European countries are now doing or contemplating seriously.

The Department of Energy has given conditional approval to seven LNG export plans, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been reviewing 14 proposals submitted by terminals that need to make modifications for export operations. On the East Coast, the list includes Dominion’s facility at Cove Point, Md., and the LNG plant operated by Southern LNG Company at Elba Island, Ga.

With approvals needed from both agencies, the requirement that gas-exporting terminals ship LNG only to countries holding free-trade agreements with the United States, and with the entire process facing various delays, congressional action is required to streamline the process.

It’s also essential that the United States drill and produce still more natural gas, which not only supports our allies but also benefits us here at home. The “shale gale” brought a 40 percent increase in oil and gas jobs between 2007 and 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, amid a paltry 1 percent job growth in the rest of our economy. IHS Global Insight projects that another 1.3 million shale-related jobs will likely be created by 2030.

Yet President Obama has given our enormous natural gas opportunities little more than lip service, beyond saying natural gas is helpful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming. The president and his regulators are also making numerous federal onshore and offshore energy prospects off-limits, moving at the pace of continental drift in issuing drilling leases and permits, and looking for ways to impede fracking on state and private lands.

Meanwhile, they ignore the impacts of wind and solar programs on eagles, hawks, bats and other threatened and endangered species, and of ethanol programs on meat producers and poor families.

Mr. Obama believes the United States must slash its use of hydrocarbons and switch to renewable energy. However, that impractical to impossible agenda will come with a huge price tag: more lost jobs, continued economic stagnation, skyrocketing energy prices, and reduced health and well-being for millions, with minority and other poor families impacted most.

Worrying about climate change right now is akin to fiddling while Rome burns. Average global temperatures have not budged in nearly 18 years, sea levels are rising at just seven inches per century, and not a single Category 3 or higher hurricane has reached U.S. shores in more than eight years (the longest such stretch since at least 1900) — to cite just three reasons the president is wrong about “dangerous man-made climate change.”

There are far more urgent issues to be resolved, including our economy, Islamist resurgence in the Middle East and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. These issues affect real people, whose lives, liberties and well-being are in jeopardy.

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