Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) yesterday announced plans to use an aid package for Ukraine to advance his proposal for expediting exports of domestic natural gas to U.S. allies and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Barrasso said in a statement that he plans to offer his amendment to a Ukraine package the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may take up tomorrow.
Barrasso told reporters yesterday that the United States has the ability to use its newfound glut of natural gas to break Russia's hold over Eastern European economies -- a message that Republicans and even some Democrats have been pushing in recent weeks, as they call for faster Energy Department approvals of export applications to countries that do not have a free-trade agreement with the United States.
"It sounds like the Senate is going to vote on an aid package to the Ukraine, and where is that money going to go?" Barrasso said during an interview. "Directly to Russia, because it's going to be used to deal with the increased cost of natural gas."
Barrasso's amendment arrives on the heels of a letter that ambassadors from the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Poland and Hungary sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week.
The ambassadors appealed to Congress to help American companies seeking to export gas to Europe overcome "bureaucratic hurdles" at DOE. Although some have noted that Ukraine has no LNG import terminals, the ambassadors noted that infrastructure investments in Europe have made "reverse gas flows" possible -- allowing gas to flow from Poland and Hungary to Ukraine.
"With the current shale gas revolution in the United States, American companies are seeking to export gas, including to Europe. But the existing bureaucratic hurdles for the approval of the export licenses to non-FTA countries like the Visegrad countries arc a major hurdle," they wrote.
Even so, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday said he's not sure whether Barrasso's language will be part of the package the panel will take up. "There's language that's being discussed on all of these topics. I do think, for us ... to thoughtfully deal with the LNG piece, I think that's an important element for us to look at," he said. "As to whether it's going to be a part of this first package or not, I don't know."
Barrasso's move adds to an increasingly complex chorus on Capitol Hill calling to rush American natural gas to the front doorstep of Ukraine -- where Russia has repeatedly used the pressure tactic of shutting off supplies. Those calls have been tempered by the likes of Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who introduced a bill to slow DOE's approval of LNG exports (E&E Daily, March 7).
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) again offered a more tempered approach.
"I have tried to be somewhat pragmatic in this initiative that will come out of the [Senate] Foreign Relations Committee, recognizing that our ability to do something tangible remains in question," she said during an interview. "The message that could be sent, the signals that are sent are obviously very important, but it's going to take more than a just a little mention of natural gas in a bill in committee."
The White House has indicated that it will not change its policies to address the Ukrainian crisis and has suggested that such a rushed approach is not realistic, given that the operation of U.S. export terminals is years away. Once approved, that gas is headed -- under new contracts -- to countries like Japan and India.
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Air Force One on Friday that DOE has approved six licenses so far -- about 8.5 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas -- and that those projects won't be completed until the end of next year. Earnest also said Europe has had a mild winter and actually has high levels of gas in storage, and there's no indication of gas shortages in the region.
"So proposals to try to respond to the situation in Ukraine that are related to our policy on exporting natural gas would not have an immediate effect," he said.