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Expanding Natural Gas Exports Would Encourage Natural Gas Fracking in California

By Tom Cotter

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Increasing America’s natural gas exports to other nations may sound like benign economic policy, but it is anything but.

In reality, oil and gas giants and others with a track record of savaging our natural resources for the sake of economic gain are pushing the Obama administration to expand exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Those pushing to grease the path to profits for Big Oil claim that allowing unlimited exportation of LNG is good for the economy and will help the United States compete globally.

But studies have shown that exporting LNG could increase the price of gas domestically by as much as 300%. That is the last thing our economy needs. Plus, there are some grave negative environmental and health consequences associated with the method used to drill for natural gas: hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Fracking has been shown to contaminate air and groundwater, lead to local water shortages and affect human health, ecosystems and the global climate.

Acting on behalf of oil and gas drilling lobbyists, Congress has excluded fracking from coverage under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, three of America’s vital health and environmental protections. With federal regulation failing to provide adequate public protection, we should do everything in our power to prevent additional market demand for fracking—and expanded unlimited exports would create precisely that demand.

Expanding LNG exportation would translate to Big Oil and gas companies raking in profits overseas (while simultaneously fueling our economic competitors) and Americans here at home suffering increased rates of cancer, child asthma and respiratory conditions as a result.

These are costs that California cannot afford. The cost of boosting fracking is one that my family and my community cannot bear. I am a resident of our Central Valley that is plagued by air quality issues and a longtime steward for our environment and a parent of children with breathing problems that complicate colds and keep them home from school and church more frequently.

Natural gas is currently a cleaner and more socially and economically beneficial energy source than oil or coal. But, given the environmental and health ramifications, it is best if thought of as a short-term resource for the United States. A better way to take advantage of this resource while still protecting our health and environment is by limiting natural gas demand to the current U.S. consumption, without expanding sales overseas. Longer term, natural gas is going to be a less and less attractive option, for environmental, health and economic reasons. We should not expand our reliance on it.

The Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Clean Water Action and a host of other major environmental groups have sent a letter to President Obama urging him to oppose expanding LNG exports until the government conducts additional environmental and economic studies. “Exporting even a fraction of the gas proposed could seriously harm American communities and the environment,” the groups wrote.

Allowing increased natural gas exports would be the worst of both worlds for the United States: We would throw away our current economic advantages and hurt American families in the short term and damage our communities, health and planet in the long term.

Countless other air quality, environmental and economic activists are writing California’s elected representatives to urge them to oppose policies to expand exports of LNG.

By sending our gas overseas, we’ll be poisoning our land, water and communities, all for the profit of big oil and gas companies. Not only will we harm communities and families here and now, but we’ll be crippling ourselves for the future. We need to ensure that the Department of Energy understands the consequences of granting any further export permits.

I have joined these groups that represent millions of Americans in urging the Obama administration to put the brakes on efforts to jump into the LNG exportation business without thorough economic and environmental study. Although it may not be grabbing headlines, this is among the most pressing environmental and energy policy decisions facing the nation. We cannot afford to let oil and gas companies quietly and carelessly force this policy on the American people.

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Tom Cotter is a passionate clean energy advocate, business leader, social entrepreneur, creation care activist and ordained minister. Professionally, Tom is regional sales manager at Real Goods Solar. Tom is chairman and president of the International Green Industry Hall of Fame and serves on the boards of both the Solar Living Institute and Restore Hetch Hetchy.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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