The green whine over U.S. gas exports


When Russia took over the Crimea at the start of the month, there were widespread calls in Congress and among the chattering classes (including from me) for the U.S. to fast-track the export of natural gas and oil to Europe in order to lessen Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and crude.

Predictably, American greens were pissed off.

According to the political website Politico, they claimed there’s no reason to think gas shipments would weaken Russia’s leverage over Europe’s energy supply, but that exporting American shale gas could drive up prices for consumers and manufacturers at home, while encouraging the spread of fracking and lessening incentives for power companies to abandon coal-fired power.

“Exporting LNG (liquefied natural gas) is no quick fix to this international crisis,” said Athan Manuel, the Sierra Club’s senior director in Washington. “The main beneficiaries of allowing more exportation of fossil fuels would be the companies that produce those fossil fuels,” said an opinion piece published on the environmental website Grist.

Coming from environmental organizations, the solicitous concern about the American consumers being socked with higher gas prices resulting from American natural gas exports is touching and about as surprising as Jack the Ripper coming out against vivisection.

For years, American environmentalists have argued for raising the price of fossil fuels by the imposition of carbon taxes, and cap and trade schemes, by moratoriums on the production of coal, oil, and natural gas on public lands, by attempts to derail Canadian oil sands and U.S. shale oil development by blocking the Keystone XL pipeline and other pipelines, by a big-lie campaign against fracking, and by a defamation campaign against the oil industry generally, among other strategies.

American environmentalists favor higher fossil fuel prices, and they don’t give a rip about the consequences for the American consumer or the American economy generally. Their sudden solicitude toward the American consumer is disingenuous, dishonest, self-serving, and above all hypocritical.

Grist is correct that oil companies would be among the main beneficiaries of American gas exports to Europe – as would about 500 million Europeans who are currently paying about three times as much for gas as American consumers and who a couple years ago saw their gas supplies cut off by Vladimir Putin in the dead of winter for political reasons.

Greens may not think that increased American gas exports to Europe would weaken Russia’s leverage over Europe’s energy supplies, but that isn’t the way at least four eastern European countries see it.

A week after Russia’s Crimea grab, the ambassadors to the U.S. from Poland, Hungary, The Czech Republic, and Slovakia — all of whom are NATO members — sent letters to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stating that the “presence of U.S. natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe,” and urging Congress to support speedier approval of natural gas exports. They also warned that energy security questions threaten the region’s residents on a daily basis.

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk put it even more bluntly during a press conference prior to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Germany’s dependence on Russian gas may effectively decrease Europe’s sovereignty. I have no doubts about that,” he said.

“The question of Ukraine is a question of EU’s future, EU’s safety, and a correction of EU’s energy policy,” he added. “We will not be able to efficiently fend off potential aggressive steps by Russia in the future, if so many European countries are dependent on Russian gas deliveries or wade into such dependence.”

The Sierra Club’s Manuel and other greens are correct when they say that exporting liquefied natural gas to Europe is “no quick fix” to the Ukraine crisis.

So what? There are no quick fixes to the Ukraine crisis.

Like sanctions, exporting American gas to Europe is a form of economic warfare. Economic warfare may be many things, but blitzkrieg is not one of them. It takes years, sometimes decades, for it to have an effect.

Selling American natural gas to Europe is a long-term response to what is going to be a long-term problem:

Putin’s desire to reincorporate into Russia some or all of the lands that seceded from the late Soviet Union when it imploded at the end of the Cold War.

If you doubt this is Putin’s real agenda, consider this: According to the Bloomberg news service, on March 21 Russian lawmakers were scheduled to consider legislation that would allow Russia to incorporate parts of countries where the central authority isn’t functioning and local residents want to secede. Sergei Markov, a Kremlin adviser and vice rector of the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics in Moscow, told Bloomberg that the bill was not needed to make Crimea part of Russia because the region had already declared its independence from Ukraine, but it would allow for the annexation of parts of eastern Ukraine, although Russia would only want to do that if it’s sure “we are welcomed with flowers.”

In addition to eastern Ukraine, obvious candidates for a Russian partitioning and annexation operation include Georgia and Moldova, which are already partially occupied, Kazakhstan (with a 23 percent Russian ethnic minority population) Latvia (27 percent Russian), and Estonia (25 percent Russian). Unlike Ukraine, Latvia and Estonia are members of NATO, which means the U.S. is obligated by treaty to defend them if they are invaded.

It’s an overstatement to say, as Senator McCain recently did, that “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” but not by much. The Russian economy is heavily dependent on oil rev enues, and the Russian government is more dependent still on them.

In addition to breaking Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, American gas exports would do real and likely irreversible damage to Putin’s ability to run Russia as a petro-tyranny. That’s the sort of “consequence” that might cause him to think twice about future invasions, with or without flowers.


This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.