Feature

Natural gas: America’s secret weapon?

There’s a simple way to counter Vladimir Putin: Exporting America’s abundant natural gas to Europe and Ukraine.

“Post-Crimea, everyone suddenly recognizes that Russia is a potential geopolitical menace to the West,” said John Fund in NationalReview.com. But there’s a simple way to counter that threat: Exporting America’s abundant natural gas to Europe and Ukraine. Europe currently buys one third of its gas from Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has a history of turning off the taps during disputes, which explains why Germany is hesitant to impose serious sanctions to punish Moscow for its attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Thanks to the fracking boom, the U.S. has more than enough gas to replace Russia as Europe’s supplier of choice, said Robert Nelson in the McClatchy-Tribune News Service. The problem is moving it across the Atlantic. Because of opposition by the green lobby, the Obama administration has repeatedly delayed approvals on gas export licenses and permits for new facilities that can liquefy natural gas—making the fuel transportable by ship. We have a potent weapon to use against Putin, if only Obama had the guts to use it.

It’s just not that simple, said The New York Times in an editorial. Even if the government approved a stack of new export licenses tomorrow, it would take years to build new gas liquefaction plants. Unlike Putin, moreover, U.S. officials cannot tell energy companies where to sell their gas and at what price, so it will probably wind up in Japan, China, and India, where it will fetch higher prices than in Europe. Selling our natural gas to Asia would further undercut U.S. manufacturers, said Carl Pope in Bloomberg.com. “But it won’t free Ukraine from Russian blackmail or stiffen Europe’s spine.”

Even if U.S. gas doesn’t go to Europe, said James Surowiecki in The New Yorker, Putin will soon lose his monopoly. When Russia turned off Europe’s pipelines in 2006 and 2009, the Continent increased gas imports from Norway and Qatar, and built new terminals for receiving liquefied gas. That’s why Putin’s use of gas to blackmail Europe is a mistake. Already, Poland, Ukraine, and the U.K. are looking into using fracking to exploit their own shale gas reserves. “Putin likes to think of himself as a geopolitical grandmaster. But when it comes to natural gas, he isn’t thinking enough moves ahead.”

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