Senate panel readies deep dive into natural gas

The May 16 session will cover “Infrastructure, Transportation, Research and Innovation,” and on May 21, the panel will turn to controversial questions about export policy in a session titled “Domestic Supply and Exports.”

“This forum will examine estimates of domestic supply and the potential benefits or unintended consequences caused by expansion of natural gas exports,” the announcement states.

The last session, on May 23, will tackle “Shale Development: Best Practices and Environmental Concerns.”

The workshops arrive as the U.S. natural gas boom is shaking up the politics of energy.

Federal regulators are weighing an array of applications to boost U.S. gas exports. But Wyden fears that a big expansion could drive up prices and hurt energy-thirsty domestic manufacturers (he often says a “sweet spot” on export levels is needed).

Meanwhile, the domestic production boom has helped drive down costs and spurred development in a number of regions.

A big expansion of hydraulic fracturing has enabled the production growth. The development method faces strong criticism from environmentalists who want more federal oversight while industry groups say it's safe and adequately regulated at the state level.

“Natural gas has the potential to be a great American success story,” Wyden said in a statement Wednesday. “Congress needs to be sure U.S. policies are up to the task of maximizing the economic benefits of this resource, and doing it in an environmentally responsible way.”