(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden announced last month he was pausing any federal approvals on new liquefied natural gas export sites.
Now, a growing bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate have raised concerns about the impact of the pause on economic and national security.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing Thursday on Biden’s pause, where experts echoed the economic and national security concerns, saying Europe could have an energy shortfall or be forced to turn to Qatar or lean more into Russia for its energy needs.
During the hearing, James Watson, head of Eurogas, which represents more than 100 companies and associations, pointed out that Europe has relied much more heavily on U.S. natural gas since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He also pointed out the White House has pledged to export more natural gas to Europe to help offset transitioning away from Russia, a major exporter of energy for European nations.
While U.S. exports to Europe have risen, they are still far from meeting the amount Russia has provided in recent years.
Watson said that in 2021, Europe used roughly 155 billion cubic meters of Russian gas. Biden has committed to getting the U.S. up to 50 bcm to Europe to offset the demand from Russia, but so far, the U.S. has hit just under half of that.
“It is a clear priority for Europe to reduce Russian imports, given that these imports provide hard capital for the Kremlin’s Ukraine war chest,” Watson said in his testimony. “As stated above, the objective is to be independent of Russian gas by 2027 in Europe, given that we are heavily impacted by the war in Ukraine – with over 4 million Ukrainian refugees being housed across Europe as of the start of this year according to the United Nations. As frontline supporters of Ukraine, it is important that the U.S. and Europe remain aligned and committed on all elements of our relationship – including supply of LNG.”
Watson added that the U.S.’s failure to meet its commitment to Europe could “cause a loss of confidence in the U.S. as a strategic partner for energy security in Europe.”
“The U.S. is one of only two potential sources for providing the volumes of LNG that Europe needs to become independent from Russian gas as soon as possible, the other possibility is Qatar,” Watson said in his testimony. “In the U.S. the pause in licensing affects around 50 bcm of projects that are awaiting a green light from the Department of Energy to start construction. We are aware that not all the capacity that is being built will be destined for Europe, clearly U.S. market actors have contracts with customers in Asia and Latin America.
“However, if that capacity does not come online in the next 2-3 years, then there is likely to be a shortfall of LNG in Europe and possibly globally,” Watson added.
The White House has defended its decision, pointing to concerns about climate change and arguing that the U.S. export of natural gas has quickly grown in recent years and is expected to continue that trend.
During the Senate hearing Thursday, Department of Energy Deputy Secretary David Turk echoed that sentiment in his testimony and argued that the exports could increase gas costs for Americans.
“Second, our understanding of CO2 and methane’s effect on climate change have only become sharper, and we need to further improve our analytical tools to answer a range of questions about LNG exports’ climate and environmental consequences, both near and longer term,” Turk said in his testimony. “Third, increased deployment of clean energy is driving updated estimates of fossil fuel demand and usage over time; and we need to understand how the latest regional and global trends will impact our own energy security as well as that of our allies.”
Roughly 150 House Republicans sent a letter to Biden Sunday blasting the gas freeze decision. House Democrats have raised concerns as well.
A group of roughly two dozen state attorneys general sent a letter to Biden this week criticizing the pause, and lawmakers in the Senate Thursday expressed similar sentiments.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., a moderate Democrat who chaired the hearing Thursday, said that while reevaluating new export the pause is a good idea, the pause itself was politically motivated and not justified by data.
“The White House has gone out of its way to signal that the pause is a political ploy intended to get votes in an election year,” Manchin said at the hearing. “It’s all about politics, not economics…”