A senior U.S. lawmaker has called for increased natural-gas exports, saying they would help undermine Russia's "coercive leverage" in Europe.
Representative Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was speaking in Washington on March 26 at a committee hearing on "The Geopolitical Potential of the U.S. Energy Boom."
"America's newly developing energy supplies could make a difference, sapping [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin's strength, while bolstering Ukraine's and many other European countries," Royce said.
Royce added that exporting U.S. energy not only benefitted U.S. national security, but would also boost its economy and create jobs.
Russia is the world's largest exporter of natural gas. It supplies Europe with at least 25 percent of its energy, with the main gas pipelines running through Ukraine.
Thanks to breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing technology, known as fracking, the United States has in recent years become the world's largest natural-gas producer.
The country is not currently a major exporter of natural gas. What gas it does export goes mostly to Canada and Mexico by pipeline.
With shale-gas production in the United States booming, Russia's intervention in Crimea has given a boost to those calling for the United States to expedite gas exports to Europe to help it cut its reliance on Russian energy.
But Eliot Engel, a senior Democratic member of the committee, said Russia was likely to remain a "major" European energy supplier in the years to come.
"It's not clear what impact U.S. exports will have on Europe's energy relationship with Russia. U.S. gas production has already ended most gas imports into our country, expanding the supply available for other countries. So Russia will continue to be a major European energy supplier due to its large reserves and proximity to its customers," Engel said.
"By contrast, U.S. natural gas must be chilled into a liquid and shipped across the Atlantic, which obviously could be very costly."
Another senior Democratic member of the committee, Brad Sherman, said exporting gas would mean higher prices for U.S. consumers and manufacturers. "It may take away a huge advantage for manufacturers that costs us far more jobs than we will pick up in the energy sector," Sherman added.
Speaking on a visit to Brussels on March 26, U.S. President Barack Obama told a news conference that concluding a new trans-Atlantic trade pact, now under negotiation, would make it easier for Washington to license more gas exports.
During lunch, reports said European Union leaders pressed Obama to step up U.S. gas exports, but he responded that the Europeans needed to take politically difficult steps to develop their own resources. He was referring to opposition in parts of Europe on environmental grounds to the extraction of shale gas.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that plans to reduce Europe's dependency on Russia were "long-term, but vital." "It requires new gas pipelines, new LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals, more shale gas, more sources from outside Russia and greater connectivity," Cameron added.
The U.S. Energy Department has approved seven LNG export terminals to export liquefied natural gas by tanker, and more projects are in the works.
Experts say the United States won't have its first export terminal in operation until the end of 2015 at the earliest, and the big volumes won't be available until at least 2019.
With reporting by Reuters