Like it or not, natural gas is our best energy option

To ease the backlog of natural gas in the United States, the White House is clearing the path for the construction of more pipelines and the export of natural gas. These moves are necessary to promote the health of our environment, cost-effective electricity generation and a foreign policy that combats Russian influence among our geopolitical partners. 

As we debate the future of energy in the United States, natural gas has become the fastest growing component of our power producing mix. In 2016, it overtook coal as the most common source of electricity produced in the country. Natural gas is abundant in the U.S., and it is the best domestic source for new power production. It is so plentiful and cheap to produce that it can also be exported in liquid form, which is an economic advantage and also promotes American interests abroad. 

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At this point, natural gas is the only good option to power more of our electricity baseload and minimize the effects on the environment. Electricity from gas has grown tremendously in the last three decades — increasing 66 percent in the 1990s, 60 percent in the first decade of this century, and 35 percent between 2010 and 2015. The U.S. is now conserving more energy than in years past — in fact, Americans used less total electricity in 2015 than they did in 2010 — but natural gas consumption is rising and displacing coal. 

Yet, natural gas has been constrained as a domestic source of power by the pipeline system. New pipelines must be built to transport the gas from the wellhead to power plants. Some communities have fought and legislated against pipelines based on misguided beliefs about natural gas. Areas poorly served by pipelines see skyrocketing electricity prices during seasons of extreme temperature fluctuation, because the pipeline networks simply cannot transport enough natural gas to satisfy demand. Nuclear and hydro plants are limited in their ability to respond to higher demand. As a result, utility prices rise and less desirable fuels, like coal, are used. Reducing the barriers to the natural gas pipeline network will help reduce the cost and the environmental impact of electricity generation in the U.S.

Furthermore, U.S. natural gas production is robust enough that we can and should export more to other countries after a liquefaction process. We are awash in natural gas, but Europe and China are lacking. China is the largest consumer of coal in the world, so natural gas exports from the United States could help reduce China decrease carbon emissions.

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Europe has cut its coal consumption considerably, but in exchange has become reliant on Russia as a source of natural gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been known to use the control over natural gas supplies to achieve regional influence. It is in America’s interest to counter Russia’s economic and political sway over Europe by helping European countries diversify their supplies with American natural gas. The Trump administration’s plans to increase the export of liquified natural gas would be a powerful geopolitical tool as well as an economic benefit to our gas and shipping industries. 

Natural gas may not be the answer that Green New Deal supporters like, but it’s what we have now. And it is an improvement for consumers, the environment and America’s global interests. 

Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center as well as the president of Transversal Consulting, a global energy and geopolitics consultancy. She is the author of the newly released book, “Saudi, Inc.,” a history of Aramco and how the Saudi royal family controls this multi-trillion dollar enterprise. Follow Wald on Twitter at @EnergzdEconomy ‏.