By Rep John Barrasso
When President Obama meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of Eight meeting this week, there should be a spotlight on our two nations' drastically different approaches to natural gas exports. While Russia continues to export natural gas and dominate the European market, the United States continues to slow-walk approval for natural gas exports. Our slow and sluggish process is affecting U.S. economic and national security.
While traveling recently to Azerbaijan, the Persian Gulf and Eastern Europe to research energy issues, I witnessed the heavy hand of Russian influence and oppression.
Russia's control of the natural gas market and prices results in some of our allies paying exorbitant rates. Expensive energy limits their economic competitiveness and their citizens' quality of life.
The high prices Russia receives for exported energy also strengthen Putin at home. And a stronger Putin and a dominant Russia do little to advance U.S. interests.
The United States has a rare opportunity to simultaneously help its allies, strengthen its foreign policy hand and create much-needed jobs at home -- all by exporting plentiful American natural gas. The question is whether the Obama administration will allow it.
U.S. producers can export liquefied natural gas (LNG), but the process often involves years of delay by the Energy Department. To speed things up, I have introduced legislation, with bipartisan support, that would provide faster approval of LNG exports to our NATO allies, Japan and other countries.
Our booming oil and gas industry has been a bright spot in the U.S. economy over the past four years as entrepreneurs have discovered new ways to tap hidden natural gas reserves. The energy boom has created thousands of good jobs at a time when our country has desperately needed them. Even more jobs can be created by exporting LNG.
Make no mistake: Our allies need energy to grow. If the United States does not supply that energy, someone else will. Russia continues to tighten its grip on Europe's energy market.
Canada and Australia are building robust export programs with regulations that are much more streamlined than the obstacle course that Washington requires American producers to navigate.
The most recent export application approved by the Energy Department, in May, took 29 months. It was the first request the department had approved in two years. A few days later, newly appointed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz delayed indefinitely all 20 of the remaining applications awaiting department consent.
An April study for the Energy Department found that natural gas exports would be a boon for the U.S. economy. A study published last June predicted that increased exports could create 25,000 new jobs in the gas industry and 40,000 jobs along the supply chain.
Opponents of increased exports include extreme environmentalists who balk at nearly all U.S. energy development. They have joined forces with a few big businesses worried that a larger export market might raise natural gas prices in the United States. In fact, even if prices do rise, they are expected to remain at levels that are historic lows for the past decade. The Energy Department study found that any price increases would be more than offset by broader economic gains.
Russia is not waiting for us to compete in the global energy marketplace. It's trying to expand its domination of the European market and has been negotiating to buy the gas distribution system in Greece. It is bidding to build a nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic. It's also trying to influence the European gas pipeline expansion that will carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea.
In his first State of the Union address, Obama said that he would double U.S. exports by 2015. "If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores," he warned.
If the president is serious about doubling our exports, his administration will follow the facts presented in the Energy Department study.
If he is serious about strengthening U.S. foreign policy and helping our allies, he will act to undermine Russian dominance in global energy markets.
If he is serious about creating good jobs, he will tell his energy secretary to approve, as soon as possible, the 20 remaining applications to export liquefied natural gas.
We cannot let this opportunity pass us by while Washington dithers.
John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.