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 home.
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 election.
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 advantage.
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
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