The end of European dependence on Russian energy?
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Am I the only American that enjoys a raft of new TV commercials by the oil and natural gas interests that excitedly point out that the United States of America is now the world's leading producer of natural gas?

They also point out that the United States is rapidly approaching No. 1 in the world in oil production.

The reasons are technological, not political, as gas and oil production under President Obama have declined in federal lands where federal permission is needed to drill.


Fracturing, or as generally known, "fracking," is the reason; deep drilling into shale is locating, releasing and bringing to the surface unimaginable amounts of natural gas and oil. While some states, like New York, are outlawing fracking, many states are unleashing this new method of extraction.

They all point to North Dakota and how the "miracle" fracking has resurrected it to the point that people from all over the country come and start work immediately at premium wages.

Pennsylvania, Texas, California and other traditional oil producers are creating even more local employment booms. Pipelines are being built to handle new production.

Now Congress needs to catch up with the new technology. The current laws, passed in the 1970s, prohibit the export of oil and gas to foreign nations.

For example, when Alaska became a giant oil producer, Congress passed a law that prohibited the sale and export of Alaskan oil to foreign countries. The result: Alaskan oil could not be sold to oil-deprived and -starved Japan; so California became the destination for Alaskan oil and Californian oil was sold to Japan.

Those laws must be overridden. Then the natural gas industry can build facilities to liquefy natural gas for export and American ships can move liquefied natural gas (LNG) to our European allies, who can then cut their reliance on Russian natural gas. This in turn will be very beneficial for the transatlantic alliance as Russia continues to aggressively use its gas leverage over our allies in Europe to its benefits.

That congressional move would perfectly fit with new natural gas pipelines from new fields that are producing, and will produce, billions of cubic meters of natural gas from new fields in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Business Insider published an article in March 2010 headlined "Gas Pipelines That Are Changing the World's Strategic Map" that explained how gas production in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan would send billions of cubic meters of gas to booming India and China from Turkmenistan and to Turkey and Europe from Azerbaijan.

Last month, the presidents of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey broke ground on a new pipeline; the 1,850-kilometer long pipeline, which will carry the Azerbaijani natural gas from 2018 on, is being built through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey and will cost $11 billion to build. It is the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) jointly owned by Azerbaijan, Turkey and British Petroleum.

Of the TANAP line, Turkey will use 6 billion cubic feet of gas annually and the remaining 10 billion cubic meters will go on to Europe (through the Balkans and Italy), helping cut the demand for Russian natural gas.

Natural gas discovery and production of new fields in Azerbaijan couldn't occur at a better time. Azerbaijan's intensive development of the natural gas production and transport of it west is delighting Europe because Azerbaijan is certainly more Western-friendly than Russia is and is not stirring secession and rebellions in surrounding countries.

This new natural gas activity by Azerbaijan is noteworthy because Russia tried buying up Azerbaijani gas to keep it off the European market and to deplete Azerbaijan's gas resources so Europe would continue to depend on Russian gas. New gas fields and TANAP overwhelm Russia's covetous eyes on the South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan, a major oil and natural gas producer and a friend of the United States, is, perhaps, the most moderate and tolerant of all Muslim countries. It has been a target of Russian impunity since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Russia supported Armenia's invasion of almost one-fifth of Azerbaijan two decades ago, and its largest foreign military base, in Armenia, continues to back the ongoing occupation.

The booming natural gas production in the United States and Azerbaijan and, hopefully, the shipment of U.S. gas to Europe can work to diminish Russian natural gas sales to Europe.

With a combination of the United States and Azerbaijani booming natural gas industries, Russian natural gas sales to a dependent Europe will decline resulting in less Russian influence and economic and political blackmail of Eastern Europe.

Who would have thought that a common interest in natural gas discovery and production in the United States and halfway across the world in Azerbaijan would combine to help Europe wean away from political and economic dependence on Russia, thus making its imperialistic ambitions less and less feasible?

Contreras formerly wrote for Creators Syndicate and the New American News Service of The New York Times Syndicate.