Export more natural gas with caution

As U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Bill Johnson lead the chorus of legislators trying to convince President Barack Obama to open the door for natural gas exportation, they’ll have to balance their wishes against the negative impact of higher fuel costs.

Ryan, D-Niles, and Johnson, R-Marietta, are certainly on the right path in co-authoring a letter that 109 congressmen signed and sent to Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. In the letter, they request that Chu push approval of export permits to non-Free Trade Agreement countries to keep America ahead of others that also have large reserves of natural gas.

A Department of Energy study done by the National Economic Research Associates called ”Macroeconomic Impacts of LNG (liquified natural gas) exports from the United States,” indicates that the benefits of selling natural gas on the global market outweigh the negative impact of higher prices that would result from increased demand.

That is especially true in Ohio, and doubly impactful for the eastern part of the state. That’s why hundreds of members of the Ohio Petroleum Council, Ohio Oil and Gas Association and Ohio Shale Coalition spent Oil and Gas Lobby Day in Columbus recently trying to convince Ohio legislators to expand natural gas development.

The lobby day advocates cited an IHS research firm study that shows 38,000 oil and natural gas jobs created in Ohio last year and the potential to add 143,595 jobs by 2020 and 266,624 jobs by 2035. The study says the industry paid more than $910 million in state and local taxes in 2011.

But as the Mahoning Valley sits at the edge of an economic boom that some predict could be bigger than steel because of the abundance of oil and gas believed to be in the Utica Shale formation, there is opposition to exporting the products. Dow Chemical Co., Alcoa Inc., Eastman Chemical, Celanese Corp., and others formed a new umbrella group, America’s Energy Advantage, to urge strict limits on the number of natural gas export permits that the Obama Administration will soon set. The companies warn against the negative impact of higher natural gas prices for manufacturers.

Certainly Ryan and Johnson must be cognizant of that warning since many local jobs rely on manufacturing. But the current low price of natural gas has stifled drilling in some parts of the country. The Energy Department can and should expand exportation and monitor pricing as part of ongoing export regulation.