Opinion

The Great Debate

To blunt Russia, time for American natural gas diplomacy

By Paul Bledsoe and Lee Feinstein
March 5, 2014

The American natural gas revolution has boosted economic competitiveness, and helped reduce U.S. carbon emissions to their lowest levels in 20 years. The question is now whether the United States will leverage this energy bounty to advance its foreign policy goals during the most serious East-West crisis in a generation.

Russian’s intervention in Crimea and looming threats against eastern Ukraine underscore Europe’s energy vulnerability. Roughly 80 percent of Russian exported gas to the EU passes through pipelines in Ukraine, which Moscow has turned off twice in recent years.

A shale gas revolution in Europe could help to limit the EU’s energy vulnerability to Russia. But while there are great hopes for the safe and environmentally responsible development of unconventional gas in the UK, Poland, and elsewhere, a reliable source of shale gas in Europe may still be a decade away.

That is why Europe has turned to imports of liquified natural gas, tripling its imports in the last decade. Unfortunately, U.S. exports of LNG are not part of this equation. Under present law, the U.S. Department of Energy must approve the exports of LNG to countries lacking a free trade agreement with the United States, including NATO allies and members of the EU. That approval process is lengthy and can be opaque. The U.S.-EU trade agreement, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is under active negotiation, but difficult issues remain, the talks are at an early stage, and it is unlikely that a treaty would be brought to the Senate for approval before the mid-term elections.

Enabling a steady flow of gas from the United States to Europe would benefit both regions — geopolitically, environmentally and economically. It would bolster transatlantic solidarity and help to form a united U.S.-EU response to Russian intervention in Crimea. The Obama administration’s efforts to gain support for economic sanctions against Russia will surely attract criticism from those Europeans who are concerned about Russian retaliation and exploitation of European dependency on Russian natural gas. Natural gas from the U.S. will not eliminate Russian leverage, but together with substantial supplies already on the market and other sources from Qatar and Norway, it could reduce Russia’s stranglehold on European energy requirements.

Some NATO allies are worried about announced cutbacks to the size of the U.S. army in Europe. At a time when security encompasses much more than boots on the ground, allowing the EU to import U.S. gas would be a tangible sign of America’s continued commitment to the region.

Gas exports can also help the United States and Europe advance their shared goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Today the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany are three of the top four destinations for U.S. coal exports. Yet natural gas, when burned, emits only half the carbon dioxide of coal. To deliver the full climate promise, the U.S. must upgrade its domestic gas infrastructure, developing more efficient drilling techniques and building new pipelines. Those steps would reduce leaks of unburned gas as methane, which has 23 times greater greenhouse gas impact than natural gas that is burned.

Natural gas can also help increase the amount of renewable energy that enters the European grid. Natural gas plants can start up and shut down much more rapidly and cheaply to adjust to intermittent wind and solar production than either coal or nuclear power. In this way, too, gas exports can be an important component in meeting the EU’s renewable energy and emissions targets.

As the administration prepares to roll out a series of targeted U.S. sanctions against Russia, President Obama should use the authority of the presidency to direct the Department of Energy to speed approval of LNG exports to NATO allies, pending the hoped-for conclusion of a comprehensive trade deal with Europe.

The U.S. energy boom has helped foster America’s economic rebound, while advancing our climate goals. Now is the time to use America’s energy prowess to foster transatlantic unity by enabling U.S. gas exports to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.

 

PHOTOS: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L), British Prime Minister David Cameron (C) and U.S. President Barack Obama take part in a group photo for the G8 Summit in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Hess natural gas processing plant is seen outside of Williston, North Dakota March 12, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Comments
3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

This would help a lot of state budgets too, since states collect direct royalties on natural gas production.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive
 

Exporting natural gas, not only to the EU, but also to Asia, will not only benefit the US from a ‘balance of payments’ perspective, but will also allow us to gain significant political leverage.. Look at how the EU ‘fears’ the fact that Russia can turn ‘off the gas tap’ whenever they want. That they can raise the price of gas, like they just did to Ukraine, whenever they want.

The EU needs to become energy independent from Russia – the US can help – to our advantage…

Posted by willich6 | Report as abusive
 

One of the most glaring and amazing things about “energy savings” and “reduced carbon emission” is how the entire Federal government ignores the fact that a viable solution for transportation in the form of electric vehicles is being completely snubbed. The is no national crash program to make a viable superstructure to make this work or encouragement towards the purchase of such vehicles available to the consumer. Instead we get more pork for the Medical Industrial complex in the form of laws written by Lobbies we do not vote for…and “foreign” meddling in national politics.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive
 

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