Debate Surrounds Race to Export America’s Natural Gas

Debate Surrounds Race to Export America’s Natural Gas

Some U.S. manufacturers, utilities and consumer advocates worry exporting gas will drive up electricity prices and deepen reliance on coal.

By Bill Lascher, InsideClimate News

Energy companies are honing plans to export natural gas faster than President Obama can call the United States the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” and that’s raising new questions about the country’s energy policies.

Multinational energy firms and some economists say exporting natural gas is a no-brainer: the cost of producing natural gas in the United States has plummeted with the explosion in shale gas production, while prices remain high elsewhere in the world. That means exports could ease the U.S. trade deficit while stimulating job growth.

But some U.S. manufacturers, utilities and consumer advocates counter that exporting natural gas will drive up electricity prices, deepen reliance on dirtier coal and discourage investment in domestic manufacturing. A government study released last month reinforced their concerns. The independent Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that U.S. natural gas prices could jump 36 to 54 percent if every export plan currently on the table goes through. Electricity prices could rise 2 to 9 percent, the report says.

Even as the debate intensifies, energy companies are laying foundations to become the first to export natural gas from the United States. No export facilities currently exist in the continental United States, but eight companies have applied to build them. At the facilities natural gas is cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit, so it becomes what’s known as “liquefied natural gas,” or LNG.  At 600 times less volume, LNG can be loaded onto special tankers berthed at the new facilities and shipped across the world.

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