The lobbying fight over how much natural gas the United States should export has picked up considerably this year.
In response to the onslaught of new export-permit requests filed with the Energy Department, large companies that use natural gas in their manufacturing processes launched the group America’s Energy Advantage in January. The group, which includes Dow Chemical, Alcoa, and Nucor, aims to educate average Americans—and to lobby Washington—about natural-gas exports.
These companies have benefited from the near-record-low natural-gas prices of the last few years, and America’s Energy Advantage is urging the Obama administration and Congress not to allow “unfettered” gas exports. What exactly the alternative might be and where the line should be drawn are unclear.
Dow Chemical, the most outspoken member of the group, is taking criticism from conservative, free-market think tanks. They assert that Dow and its allies are bucking the basic conservative principle that governments should not intervene in markets.
Chemical companies aren’t the only ones sounding alarms regarding natural-gas exports. A relatively small number of environmental groups that seek to limit the use of hydraulic fracturing oppose the export trend altogether. The process, also known as “fracking,” is key to developing shale gas but controversial for its environmental impact.
The largest organization involved in this effort, the Sierra Club, is also concerned about the overall carbon footprint of natural gas. While natural gas is believed to produce half the carbon emissions of other fossil fuels, some reports raise questions about how much methane—a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon—is released throughout the life cycle of gas production.
On the other side of the issue, natural-gas producers, such as Chesapeake Energy and Exxon Mobil, and companies involved in building export terminals are lobbying in favor of increased exports.