Study: Exporting natural gas a boon to U.S. despite price hikes

12/05/2012 5:02 PM

12/06/2012 5:36 AM

A major new study for the U.S. Department of Energy supports controversial efforts to send natural gas to foreign nations, a conclusion that could push the president to approve exports over the objections of those who say it would hurt the country.

America’s new energy bonanza is the natural gas found in shale rock, and there’s a heavy push to build terminals where it can be liquefied and exported. The natural gas industry says exports will boost the economy. But opponents argue that exports will drive up prices in the United States and are bad for American consumers, manufacturers and energy security.

Foreign nations are thirsty for America’s natural gas. But exports are restricted except for those countries – mostly in North and Central America – where the U.S. has special free-trade agreements. The federal government has approved major overseas exports so far from just one project, Cheniere Energy’s 2 billion-cubic-feet per-day project on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.

There are more than a dozen other applications for export projects. But the government has held off on them while it awaited the results of Wednesday’s study, which looked at what the impacts of different levels of liquefied natural-gas exports would be on the economy.

“Across all these scenarios, the U.S. was projected to gain net economic benefits from allowing LNG exports,” said the report from NERA Economic Consulting.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski praised the study.

“It’s clear from the study that exporting LNG would be beneficial to the U.S. economy, and the greater the level of exports, the greater the benefit,” said Murkowski, who’s the top Republican on the Senate energy committee.

Murkowski’s home state is pushing for a project to export its vast natural-gas resources to Asia, where prices and demand are high. The study released Wednesday weighed only potential Lower 48 export projects.

The study said exports would raise energy prices in the United States. But it concluded that “these costs are more than offset by increases in export revenues along with a wealth transfer from overseas received in the form of payments for liquefaction services. The net result is an increase in U.S. households’ real income and welfare.”

Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey disagrees. Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the study supported his arguments that exports could drive up U.S. prices by 30 percent.

“If exports are approved, the winners are mainly those in the natural gas business and those holding their stock,” Markey said in a statement. “This report confirms that if natural gas exports move forward on a large scale there will be a massive wealth transfer from working Americans to oil and gas companies.”

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