The continuing debate over America’s shale energy wealth – both natural gas and oil – boils down to this: Will we safely and responsibly develop those resources with cutting-edge fracking technology or fumble away an historic chance to take greater control over our energy future by leaving those resources in the ground?
The answer to that question will be seen in individual policy discussions – such as whether exports of U.S. natural gas will be allowed. Two articles this week keep the focus on that issue.
The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson writes that limiting or blocking exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) will hurt job creation, limit the positive environmental impact of a clean-burning fuel and possibly more:
"Limiting LNG exports might initially cut prices, but the long-run consequences would be perverse. By depressing prices, we might kill the boom. Production would become less profitable or unprofitable, and new drilling would slow or stop. … Government agencies are studying whether added environmental regulation of fracking and wastewater disposal is needed. So far, hazards seem manageable. Mainly, the boom should be left alone to build on its considerable gains. … A policy that discriminates against producers in favor of consumers by restricting foreign sales will hurt both. The gas boom will recede as an engine of growth. For years, Americans have complained about trade deficits. Now that we have something more to sell, we shouldn’t turn away customers."
And C. Boyden Gray, in an op-ed for The Washington Times:
"To be clear, we do need natural gas at home — for cleaner power generation, for more American manufacturing, and for cleaner cars on the road. … But exports do not undermine that goal; rather, global demand offers a great incentive to get even more gas out of the ground, with little or no price increases at home. And the benefits are not just economic. As I have written before, U.S. exports of LNG to Europe, expedited by a U.S.-EU free trade agreement, would have a dramatic geopolitical impact."
The economic boost from the development of energy from shale has been in clear relief the past few years, and we’re just beginning to tap its potential. Decisions made today have long-term impacts, and as Samuelson and Gray point out, policymakers should look hard at the consequences of their actions.