The top two members of a Senate committee for energy split over expanding U.S. natural gas exports, mirroring a disagreement between fuel consumers such as Dow Chemical Co. (DOW:US) and producers such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:US)
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the new chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said unfettered exports could drive up domestic prices for U.S. manufacturers, and vowed to push legislation to change guidelines for the government to approve exports of the fuel. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the panel’s top Republican, said exports are “real money,” and warned against making decisions best left to markets.
“I don’t think dragging our feet is an option here,” Murkowski said today at a hearing about U.S. development of natural gas supplies.
Representatives of oil and gas producers and manufacturers said a boom in U.S. natural-gas production has created a renaissance in manufacturing and lowered carbon-dioxide emissions, which are tied by scientists to climate change, to the lowest levels in years.
“Natural gas has made American industry more competitive,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said at the hearing. “American chemical and fertilizer industries are growing because of inexpensive natural gas. Foreign investment in electricity-intensive industries has also been flowing into the country.”
Exxon (XOM:US), the nation’s largest producer of natural gas, says exports will create jobs, encourage more production and lower the trade deficit. Dow (DOW:US), the largest U.S. chemical maker by revenue, uses gas and its byproducts and leads a coalition that wants to keep prices low by limiting the amount that leaves the country.
Exporting gas will occupy Wyden’s committee after he vowed to push measures that would tweak Energy Department oversight of liquefied natural gas exports. He echoed comments of Dow Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris, who said gas exports will raise domestic prices for the fuel and he expressed unease at unfettered overseas sales.
Wyden pledged to examine if the department’s “guidelines are what they need to be.” He didn’t provide details.
The Energy Department is reviewing 16 applications to build export terminals to ship supplies to countries that don’t have free trade agreements with the U.S., a group that includes Japan.
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