House to probe geopolitics of natural gas exports

The Energy Department (DOE) is weighing a number of applications to export natural gas to nations that lack a free-trade agreement with the United States. Such deals receive more scrutiny than others, as federal law says they must be in the national interest.

Many of the nations that would benefit geopolitically from importing U.S. natural gas don't have a free trade arrangement.

Backers of natural gas exports say sending the energy source to those countries — largely European or Asian ones — would weaken the hold Russia has on markets in the Eastern Hemisphere, among other things.

The hearing comes as Russia is moving to strike deals with Japan to supply natural gas. 

Japanese businesses have lobbied DOE and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pressed President Obama to approve natural gas exports to the island nation. Japan is looking for energy partners after cutting off 30 percent of its supply when it shuttered its nuclear reactors following the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdown.

Several lawmakers and witnesses raised some of those issues during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the geopolitical impact of natural gas exports last week.

Until that hearing, proponents of boosting exports had largely touted potential economic gains of reducing the federal trade deficit and adding jobs.

But some Democrats and manufacturers resisted those arguments. They worry sending too much natural gas abroad will raise domestic prices.