- - Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The United States is about to reach a major energy milestone. A new government report predicts that the nation is on track to become a net energy exporter within the decade.

This is huge. The United States has relied on foreign imports of oil and natural gas since the 1950s. Energy independence will make the nation safer. Plus, as a net exporter, American manufacturers be able to sell oil and gas in international markets, boosting our economy and weakening the power of volatile nations.

For this to happen, though, lawmakers must implement policies that support energy production and transport. A stable future depends on it.

U.S. energy production is booming. Natural gas exports more than tripled from 2002 to 2011. Meanwhile, oil imports decreased from more than 10 million barrels per day to less than half that from 2004 to 2014.

While the United States weans itself off foreign sources of energy, international energy demand is climbing. By 2040, worldwide energy consumption will surge 56 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Competing world powers are upping their energy production to capitalize on this demand. Iraq’s oil exportation hit record levels in February. Iran recently announced a plan to increase its oil supplies by 8 billion barrels during the next 30 years. Russia just opened a new natural gas pipeline and two new oil pipelines, while also striking up lucrative international energy deals with Japan and Qatar, one of which totaled more than $10 billion.

The uptick in American energy exportation means we can now compete in this market — and keep pace with these nations.

An important first step is expediting the approval of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminals, which facilitate the transportation of natural gas to other countries. These facilities are subject to strict, lengthy reviews. Over two-dozen applications are currently awaiting approval — and many have been in the queue for years. If the application and approval process were updated and restructured, U.S. LNG exports could make an immediate impact on global trade.

Other countries are crying out for U.S. exports. In a recent letter to Congress, U.S. ambassadors of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia urged the United States to make the LNG terminal approval process quicker. They hope that U.S. exports can lessen their countries’ dependence on nations that, as they noted, use energy as a “political weapon.”

But efforts to expedite exports have simmered out in Congress. To aid our allies and boost our economy, they must be reignited and pushed through.

In order to expand American exportation, lawmakers must also allow more energy production on federal lands. From 2011 to 2015, drilling on federal territory increased by only 0.8 percent. For comparison, drilling on private lands increased by 113 percent during that time.

That’s largely because regulations are currently making production on federal lands impossible. Acquiring a drilling permit on federal territory took an average of 220 days in 2015 — more than five times the average approval time in 2005. Meanwhile, permits for drilling on private lands take 10 business days in some states. Only 852 federal land leases for drilling were granted in fiscal year 2015 — nearly 3,000 fewer than a decade ago.

Removing some of these administrative obstacles would allow producers to generate more energy for exports — and bring in some cash for the government to boot. Making federal lands available for production could add $127 billion to the economy annually over the next seven years.

Becoming energy-independent is a huge step for America’s energy security. With lawmakers’ help, we can sustain that progress — and help our allies keep their lights on, too.

• Andrew Langer is president of the Institute for Liberty.

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