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Is Flawed Thinking on Ukraine Creating Gas Export Bonanza?

Department of Energy greenlights Oregon LNG export terminal, but environmentalists decry use of natural gas as 'geopolitical bargaining chip'

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Under the guise of providing relief for the crisis in Ukraine, energy industry leaders and conservative think tanks are presenting arguments to both the House and Senate on Tuesday calling for the U.S. government to 'fast-track' approval of pending liquified natural gas (LNG) exports.

As the push continued to ramp up, environmentalists charged lawmakers with promoting the fossil fuel development as a "geopolitical bargaining chip."

In an expected but "political" development ahead of the hearing, the Department of Energy granted conditional approval to the opening of a new LNG export terminal on the Oregon coast. The Jordan Cove terminal is one of roughly two dozen LNG export terminal applications currently pending and is the sixth plant to receive the green light from the administration in the last year.

"Subject to environmental review and final regulatory approval, the facility is conditionally authorized to export at a rate of up to the equivalent of 0.8 billion standard cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of natural gas, for a period of 20 years," the DOE announced.

Though exports from Jordan Cove will be destined for Asia and will not be ready until at least 2019, lawmakers pushing for an increase in exports to Ukraine hailed the development. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the approval “sends a positive signal to our allies and to energy markets that the United States is ready to join the growing global gas trade.”

Margo Thorning, senior vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation, noted that the timing of Jordan Cove’s approval was “highly political,” ahead of the congressional hearing.

Since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pushed for an increase in LNG exports and for the DOE to expedite their approval process, arguing that shipping U.S. fracked gas in the form of LNG abroad would "weaken" Russia's influence in the region.

Environmentalists decried the "hypocrisy" of using geopolitics as an excuse to expedite important protective oversight.

"Fossil fuels should not be used as a geopolitical bargaining chip, nor should giant oil and gas corporations write our foreign policy,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The hypocrisy of the call for exports is highlighted by the fact that it will take years for our export facilities to be able to process the volumes of gas proposed for overseas sales."

"Fossil fuels should not be used as a geopolitical bargaining chip, nor should giant oil and gas corporations write our foreign policy,”
—Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch


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"There's been a lot of talk about fast tracking and streamlining" the approval process, Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which has lead the charge against the proposed Cove Point LNG export terminal in Maryland, told Common Dreams. "People need to understand that what they are talking about is cutting corners on processes put in place to protect people and the environment."

Reporting on Tuesday's hearing, Reuters writes:

One solution is legislation that the House Energy Committee will consider on Tuesday afternoon to allow U.S. natural gas exports to any country that is a member of the World Trade Organization without government approval.

While the administration has not officially taken a position on the measure, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oil and Natural Gas Paula Gant will tell lawmakers the bill would essentially eliminate the need for Energy Department review of applications.

Even before the uprisings in Kiev, the Obama administration has hailed the U.S. development and export of fossil fuels—under the banner of an "all of the above" energy strategy—as a means of maintaining international dominance.

Aside from the numerous environmental arguments against the expansion of exporting fracked and liquified natural gas, foreign policy experts are sounding the alarm over the "geostrategic impacts" of this policy.

Michael T. Klare, Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, wrote earlier this month that it would be "exceedingly unwise," and potentially dangerous, for U.S. policy makers to equate an increase in domestic production of oil and gas "with a blank check to bully China, Russia and other rivals."

"We should be wary of embracing the argument that an increase in US and Canadian energy production automatically translates into renewed geopolitical advantage, giving the president leeway to behave more aggressively in the international arena," he continues.

You can watch a video of the hearing proceedings here.


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