Natural Gas Export Push No Easy Issue for Lobby Groups

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Equipment used for the extraction of natural gas is viewed at a hydraulic fracturing site in South Montrose, Pennsylvania.

How Congress will weigh in on the push to expand natural gas exports remains to be seen. The issue, though, is already causing headaches for Washington’s big business lobbying groups.

After endorsing increased exports of natural gas last week, the American Chemistry Council reversed course this week, saying it had come to understand views of its member companies had “evolved” on the sensitive subject.  Some chemical and steel companies say they oppose significant natural gas exports, fearing the overseas sales could raise energy costs for U.S. manufacturers.

Dow Chemical Co., one of the council’s largest members, threatened to leave the group over its export stance, according to a Jan. 17 Wall Street Journal article. Dow did announce its departure from the National Association of Manufacturers after that group backed expanded natural gas
exports.

The chemistry council’s initial endorsment “accurately reflects executive committee policy dating to February 2012,” Scott Openshaw, a spokesman for the group, said in an e-mail. “However, the issue and its implications for some of our members have evolved. We therefore plan to further discuss this issue to assure all members’ views are fully represented and the implications understood.”

The issue of exports promises to be among the most hotly contested energy debates in Washington this year, as differences emerge over what the U.S. should do with its newfound energy bounty. The drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing is boosting oil and gas supplies and turning the U.S. into an energy powerhouse.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and new chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has said he’s concerned unlimited exports could raise fuel prices in the U.S., jeopardizing an ongoing manufacturing renaissance here. He plans to hold a hearing on the matter in upcoming weeks.

Both Wyden and officials with Dow were critical of an Energy Department analysis released last month that said exports offer almost unqualified  benefits to the U.S. economy. Dow uses natural gas as an energy source, and it uses ethane, often produced with gas, as a main ingredient for its products.

Exxon Mobil Corp., the nation’s largest producer of natural gas and also a
member of the chemical lobbying group, says the market should decide how much gas is exported.

“It’s a false choice to claim that increasing exports comes at the expense of domestic manufacturing,” Ken Cohen, Exxon’s vice president of public and government affairs, wrote on the company’s blog. “If more markets are opened to their sale, then there will be more demand, more investment and more production.”

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