North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, recently returned from a visit to Ukraine, thinks we can use trade policy to help put an aggressive and resurgent Russia back on its heels. With domestic production of natural gas surging, Hoeven is pushing for President Obama to relax restrictions on exporting gas.
Russia, one of the largest exporters of natural gas in the world and the source of about one third of Europe’s gas, uses their energy wealth as leverage on the global stage. More US gas on the market would undermine Russia’s economic position:
He and Senator John Warner have a plan that includes more export of liquefied natural gas from the US to the European Union – which they say will help reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy. Hoeven says there are several applications pending for LNG production and manufacture – and he says those should be approved as soon as possible. Hoeven says any prohibitions on exporting the natural gas to countries that we don’t have trade agreements with should be lifted. And he says President Obama needs to work with our European allies.
“The President is going to be in Brussels next week, meeting with the EU,” said Hoeven. “We need a US-EU plan to address energy, so when the President is over there, he can get a strategic plan going to address the energy issue.”
Beyond the fact that this is sound diplomatic strategy, this would also be good for the United States in a number of ways. Lifted restrictions on gas exports would expand the available market for US-produced gas. That would help shore up a burgeoning industry that has been one of the few bright spots in our national economy in recent years.
It would also help address the problem of flaring, both here in North Dakota and in other states with major gas production. A larger, more reliable market for gas makes investment in gas-gathering infrastructure much more palatable.
Unfortunately, opposition from this policy is coming from US manufacturing interests which want to keep the price of natural gas (and thus gas-fired power) artificially low with the export ban. Right now, because much of the gas produced in the US can’t be exported, gas prices are at rock-bottom lows. That’s good for gas consumers, but not so good for gas producers.
As usual, a free market would best serve all involved.
We enlarge the market for a US-produced product, we create more incentive to reduce flaring, and pull a powerful economic lever against a resurgent and increasingly belligerent Russia. That sounds like a win-win-win to me.