By KEITH JOHNSON
WASHINGTON -- For more than a year, the debate over whether
the US should export some of its natural-gas bonanza has
centered on how exports could affect the US economy and
Increasingly, though, the geopolitical implications of
exporting US gas are shaping the debate, with proponents
optimistic that the potential dividends for US national
security could tip the scales in their favor.
Proponents of US gas exports,
including current and former lawmakers, say that exporting some
US gas would bolster America's relations with allies in Europe and Asia, weaken the hold of
major energy producers such as Russia and help further isolate
Iran. Critics worry any strategic advantage would be outweighed
by eroding the benefit cheap energy offers US industry at
Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee's
energy and power subcommittee will examine the "direct
political implications" of the US gas boom at a hearing
"Opening trade in natural gas with our closest allies is
clearly in the national security interest of the United
States," said former Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.), who
championed the idea of exporting gas to North Atlantic Treaty
Organization allies before leaving the Senate after the 2012
The wrangling over how best to take advantage of US energy
resources reflects a huge shift. Since the 1970s, US dependence
on foreign energy suppliers constrained its foreign policy. Today, proponents of
strategic exports believe the US could turn energy to its
The US gas boom is already having an impact on global energy
relations, even before the US has exported any significant
amount. Liquefied natural gas from the Middle East once meant
for the US has been diverted to Europe instead, freeing countries
there to renegotiate onerous gas contracts with Russia.
The prospect of significant volumes of US gas flowing onto
the world market has US allies clamoring for access.
"New flow of LNG supply from the US to Asia is an essential
game changer that would contribute to energy security as well
as economic and geopolitical stability in Asia," said
Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan's minister of economy, trade and
industry, in a speech Friday in Washington, D.C. He said he
hoped approval of gas exports to Japan would be the first order
of business for Ernest Moniz, who is awaiting Senate
confirmation as secretary of energy.
India's ambassador to the US has publicly pleaded for US gas
as a way to get cleaner-burning fuel. Companies from the UK,
Spain, South Korea and India have signed preliminary
contracts to import gas from the US if the government approves
export projects. Even countries such as
Germany, which have traditionally relied on Russia for gas,
have told US lawmakers they are interested in access.
Some 20 export projects are awaiting approval by
the Department of Energy, which has to approve deals with
countries with whom the US doesn't have a free-trade agreement.
The Department of Energy hasn't given a decision date, but a
department official told Congress in late April that decisions
could come in a matter of weeks.
Some powerful groups are
skeptical of the merits of sending big volumes of US gas
overseas. Dow Chemical helped form a coalition of
energy-intensive companies that say that shipping gas abroad
could raise prices for gas at home, undermining a competitive
"We could make a very strong case that we could maintain or
drive United States influence through an increasingly strong,
robust US economy that is exporting more goods overseas"
instead of shipping raw materials, said Kevin Kolevar, vice
president for government affairs at Dow.
Proponents of gas as a geopolitical weapon have proposed
legislation that would expedite export approvals for NATO
allies and Japan. Exporting gas "is an opportunity to
strengthen our economy and strengthen our hand in the world,"
said Rep. Tim Ryan (D., Ohio), a co-sponsor of a House
However, legislation automatically granting export approval
to certain countries could diminish the appeal of formal US
trade agreements and might "remove valuable US leverage in
international trade negotiations," said Michael Levi of the
Council on Foreign Relations in House testimony last month.
Even China, whose demand for natural gas is expected to soar
in coming decades, could be a market for U.S. gas exports,
proponents say. That would help improve the US trade balance
and help China address pollution caused in part by reliance on
burning coal, they say.
"It would also put us in a better place when we go to do
various negotiations with the Chinese, whether that's on issues
such as North Korea or others," said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R.,
Kan.), a co-sponsor of the House legislation who said he would
raise those issues at Tuesday's hearing.
Dow Jones newswires