Our Views: To export, or keep gas?

If we sell natural gas to foreign buyers, Louisiana and America will benefit economically.

The other side of the question is whether those sales are too much of a good thing, as some consumers of natural gas think.

For the moment, the consensus by U.S. government analysts is that sales of liquefied natural gas are a positive for the economy, and that view is supported in the Louisiana delegation to Congress, across party lines.

Among those backing the exports are U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is chairwoman of the Senate’s energy committee. And she is joined, naturally enough, by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, the Lafayette Republican who represents the southwestern Louisiana district where multibillion-dollar LNG export terminals are being built.

Those LNG export terminals will be going online in a few years. And that’s what worries some of Louisiana’s large industrial users of natural gas.

“The concern we have is in the midterm, the three- to five-year time frame, because that’s when all of this comes online,” says Kevin Kovelar, a government affairs vice president for Dow. And that’s the time frame when major industrial expansions in Louisiana, fueled by cheaper natural gas, are also to be built.

Kovelar and James R. Fitterling, executive vice president for the chemical products giant, don’t want to see “unfettered” exports.

But at the same time as Dow — and it is not alone among gas consumers — expresses its concern about LNG facilities in the pipeline, Louisiana’s representatives are pushing for expedited approval of the facilities from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

For all the big-dollar economic impacts of LNG terminal expansions, the number of large facilities announced by energy-intensive industries is even larger, including major expansions or new plants along the Mississippi and Calcasieu river corridors.

The fracking revolution in energy production has unleashed vast amounts of natural gas and oil from shale formations previously untapped. It is that supply that is making industrial expansion possible because of cheaper and reliable quantities of natural gas.

Again, if there is a consensus in the debate, it is in favor of taking advantage of the export markets.

“The economy in general is better off if we can sell something to someone and bring money into the economy,” Jerry Webman, chief economist at Oppenheimer Funds, told The Associated Press. “I’d rather deal with any side effects directly than limit our ability to do business with the world.”

For the moment, that’s where U.S. policy is aimed.