Area has big stake in debate over natural gas exportation

It’s not unusual for the Mahoning Valley’s congressmen to intercede on behalf of the steel and auto industries given their significance to the region’s economy. But when Reps. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-13th, and Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, recently made a pitch for federal natural-gas export permits, it was a clear indication that they are sold on the hype about this area being on the threshold of an energy boom because of the Utica shale formation.

“We can either import oil or export gas,” said Ryan, a member of the powerful appropriations committee, during a visit last week to BP’s Ohio headquarters in North Jackson.

“America has an opportunity here to be the lead in natural-gas exports,” said Johnson, who also toured the headquarters. The Republicans control the House. “You’ve got other countries in other regions of the world that are already doing this.”

The congressmen have joined 107 others in signing a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu seeking the approval of natural-gas export permits to countries that don’t have free-trade agreements with the United States.

But while the congressional initiative has the support of the oil and gas industry, a coalition of manufacturers is urging the Obama administration not to open the door to fossil fuel exports.

More than a dozen companies have applied to sell up to 22.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to countries that don’t have free trade agreements with the U.S., according to Hearst Newspapers.

Government study

The debate between the proponents and opponents centers on a government-commissioned study. The oil and gas industry has eagerly embraced its key finding: Unlimited exports would broadly benefit the U.S. with up to $47 billion on new economic activity.

The manufacturing group, led by Dow Chemical Co. and featuring Alcoa Inc. and Eastman Chemical, notes that exports would cause price increases for companies that are big users of energy produced by natural gas, Hearst Newspapers reports.

In Congress, two powerful senators, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Ed Markey, D-Mass., contend that the study is based on old data about natural gas demand. The study also gives short shrift to the potential cost increase and harm to the chemical industry.

President Obama, who touted natural gas exploration while campaigning in this part of country last year, should let the energy secretary know that the Washington shuffle won’t work. The evaluation of the natural-gas export study must be put on a fast track.

The president should give regions like the Mahoning Valley, which has seen hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by major exploration entities to secure mineral rights from private property owners, the chance to be heard.

New frontier

The presence of BP and other national companies speaks to the potential of the area as the new frontier for oil and gas exploration.

It’s no accident that President Obama and Ohio Gov. John Kasich mention this fledging industry, especially because it’s in a region known for steel making and auto manufacturing.

Congressmen Ryan and Johnson are right in pushing the administration to expand the export of natural gas around the world.

For too long, the United States has been at the mercy of other countries for its energy needs. It’s time the tables were turned.

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