Natural Gas Exporting : A Bad Idea Whose Time Has Come

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - In Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, she describes the way in which special interests and their lobbyists have learned to take advantage of breaking news to push their agendas into the breech, when the media is distracted, and politicians are reaching for a quick fix. It’s a pattern that, once you are aware of it, you see happening over and over again.

It’s happening again now, in the wake of the situation in Ukraine. Perhaps, with visions of cashing in on newly rekindled cold war antagonism, oil and gas companies and their Republican lackeys in Congress have just fast-tracked approval its 7th natural gas export facility that had been pending environmental review. The motive behind this was to send a message to Vladimir Putin, punishing him for his Crimean transgression, since natural gas exports, primarily to Europe, are vital to the Russian economy. If Europe stops buying gas from Russia, they can still sell to China, but that would be at lower prices.
As it stands, Eastern European countries will likely use the prospect of American imports to demand lower prices from the Russians. A number of countries including Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be in a position to negotiate new contracts with Russia’s Gazprom next year, when their existing contracts expire.
A draft communiqué from the G7 came out in the Financial Times stating, “We welcome the prospect of U.S. LNG exports in the future since additional global supplies will benefit Europe and other strategic partners.”
This might all make a certain amount of sense diplomatically, considering that European countries dependent on Russian natural gas would be reluctant to impart economic sanctions against a critical supplier. But from both an economic and an environmental perspective, this is akin to cutting off our nose to spite our face.
This comes at a time when environmental leaders, such as BillMcKibben and the Sierra Club's Michael Brune have been strongly urging the president not to move forward with natural gas exports. Citing reasons ranging from threats to our water supply posed by noxious fracking chemicals to newly discovered threats posed by methane to the already-disrupted climate, they told him in a letter last week, that "exporting LNG [liquefied natural gas] is simply a bad idea in almost every way."

Just last month, a study released by NREL, which analyzed the impact on climate posed by natural gas leaks found, that these negative impacts outweighed the benefits of using gas as a substitute for diesel fuel. This is due to the more potent greenhouse gas effect attributable to methane, the primary component of natural gas. The study did find, however, that natural gas is still less harmful than coal.

Increasing the level of natural gas production to serve a burgeoning export market might be great for the bottom line of energy companies, but it will also greatly increase the amount of fracking taking place in this country.

If these were not reason enough to use restraint before approving additional exports, then consider the impact on the broader American economy. If exports take off, Americans will suddenly be forced to compete with foreigners for access to domestic gas, foreigners who, I might add, have been used to paying higher prices.

In McKibben's letter to the president, he wrote that, "a  study commissioned by the [Department of Energy] last spring found that exporting U.S. gas would raise the fuel’s price here at home. It’s basic supply and demand. More buyers overseas will drive up our domestic price by as much as 27 percent, according to the DOE. …"

The letter goes on to say, that "when you add it all up, using numbers from the EPA, the International Energy Agency and the U.S. gas industry itself, the final climate impact of fracked-and-liquified-and-exported Appalachian gas is basically as bad as burning coal in Asia. And that’s using really conservative pollution estimates."

Gas suppliers have been chomping at the bit to increase sales, even though they know, according to a eminent geologist, that dwindling supplies won't be able to meet demand in a few years. They hope to lock in those sales through infrastructure investments, which will allow them to raise prices down the road.

These recent development in Ukraine have been a dream-come-true for them, a windfall landing right in their lap. But for the rest of us, it's time to realize, that once again, we've been had.