We are in the midst of an energy revolution.
Over the last 7 years, the amount of recoverable natural gas in our country has skyrocketed. For the first time in our nation's history, we have more gas than we could use here in the United States even if we tried; our current reserves are roughly 97 times what the U.S. consumed in all of 2011. We could sell the gas on the global market for billions of dollars, creating thousands of jobs in the process, but we are not for one simple reason: bureaucratic red tape.
Back in 1938, when the U.S. was a net importer of natural gas, Congress passed a law requiring any company that wanted to export natural gas to first get approval from the Department of Energy (DOE). Over the last 70 years, this bureaucratic hurdle was hardly noticed as the U.S. was a net importer of natural gas and looked to be for years to come.
That is no longer true. Technology has changed it all. There are some 18 export applications now pending before the DOE. The department's response? No response at all. In the last three years, DOE has granted only two applications.
Granting these applications today would be a much needed economic boost for the U.S. One project alone is projected to create 3,000 new construction jobs, 20,000-30,000 jobs in exploration, drilling and pipe-laying and many other jobs as a result of the project infusing $10 billion into our economy. Some opponents of exporting LNG argue that domestic prices will rise, increasing costs to consumers and businesses which rely on cheap natural gas. Yet, the most respected economic studies show only a modest increase to domestic prices that is far outweighed by the net economic benefits to the overall U.S. economy, including additional exploration and recovery.
In April, in a hearing I held with the world's leading experts on natural gas issues, our witnesses, from labor union representatives to economists, were unanimous in declaring that there was no good reason why the U.S. shouldn't be exporting more natural gas around the globe.
Aside from unquestionable economic benefits, there are also geopolitical considerations that make exporting LNG to our friends and allies a no-brainer. The risk of high reliance on Russian gas has been a principal driver of European energy policy in recent decades. Among central and eastern European states, particularly those formerly aligned with the Soviet Union such as Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the issue of reliance on imports of Russian gas is a primary energy security concern that has ripple effects throughout their foreign policy and jeopardizes essential political and economic reforms. From the U.S. perspective, cheap but reliable natural gas would reduce Moscow's clout while shoring up goodwill amongst our allies.
The Pacific Basin countries, much like the Europeans, have also expressed their desire for American LNG ; the resource-strapped Japanese government for example, has already attempted to secure a Free Trade Agreement waiver to allow exports.
As U.S. foreign policy attempts to "pivot to Asia," the ability of the U.S. to provide energy security and pricing relief to LNG importers will be an important economic and strategic asset.
We are sitting on more natural gas than we could ever consume on our own; it is long past time to update the old 1938 law, dismantle antiquated and bureaucratic road blocks, and take the Department of Energy out of the export license-granting process altogether. That's why I will soon introduce the "Expedite Our Economy Act of 2013," which calls for removing DOE from the process so we can finally get to work.
Even with DOE out of the process, there will continue to be sufficient regulation of the environmental impact and safety of projects from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This is a good thing, and with its technical expertise and timely responses, the commission should continue to be a player in the process.
But, while our unemployment rate still sits north of 7 percent and thousands have been out of work for years, DOE's needless obstruction must come to an end.
Poe, a Republican representing the Houston area in the U.S. House of Representatives, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation & Trade.