Smarter to supply Europe coal than gas

Jim Constantopolous

Guest columnist

As much as we would like to use America’s abundance of natural gas as a political lever against Russia’s Vladimir Putin, uncertainty over the demand for relatively high-cost U.S. gas will likely force us to be more realistic about what we can accomplish.

A better strategy would be to supply Europe with coal and nuclear technology, which could be used instead of Russian natural gas for electricity production.

To that end, we should eliminate government restrictions on coal mining and the export of nuclear plant components.

European countries, 70 percent to 100 percent dependent on Russian gas would like to get out from under Russia’s grip. But Russian gas is substantially cheaper than U.S. liquefied natural gas, and even the most vulnerable countries are unlikely to change who they buy their gas from.

Besides, meaningful quantities of LNG will not become available for export until at least 2020.

The U.S. is producing more gas than we can consume, and we should be grateful for that. If not for the boom in shale-gas production, the U.S. would still be importing LNG to meet our needs.

Picture this: Were Russia to interrupt gas deliveries to Europe, the loss of supplies would force European countries to obtain natural gas on the international market, which would drive up world prices. Among those who would have to pay more for gas would be American consumers.

The fact that we’re now shielded from events overseas is due in no small way to the surge in U.S. gas production.

We can and should take action now. If the U.S. government were to expedite the approval of licenses to export LNG, it would signal our resolve to become a major player in the global gas market. To date, seven terminals to export LNG have been approved, with two under construction.

There are applications pending for 25 more terminals, but they are being slow-walked. A number of those terminals will never be built due to the high cost of LNG infrastructure construction and the difficulty of obtaining the necessary financing.

Still, Congress should approve proposed legislation to require the Department of Energy to speed up its licensing process. In the long term, U.S. LNG will temper European gas prices, and that will cut into Russia’s revenues.

Russia’s takeover of Crimea is a fact. The question is what does the U.S. and our allies do about it? On the energy front, the first order of business is to speed up approval of LNG export terminals. Then make way for increased coal and nuclear exports. Together they could help displace Russia’s dominant energy position in Europe, while delivering economic benefits here at home.


Jim Constantopoulos is a professor of geology at Eastern New Mexico University. Contact him at:

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