HOUSTON—The secretary general of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, a group of the leading natural gas-producing nations outside the United States—now the world's No. 1 gas producer—says the influential group has asked to meet with officials from the Energy Department, suggesting that it's time for more global coordination of natural gas development.
Leonid Bokhanovskiy, who became head of the GECF in December 2009, told National Journal on the sidelines of a major energy conference here that he had requested a meeting with Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, though he would not discuss the planned agenda. Poneman is the chief operating officer at Energy and is a former top aide on nonproliferation and export controls at the National Security Council.
GECF is a group of 12 countries, including Russia, Qatar, and Iran, that was set up in 2001 to “increase the level of coordination and strengthen the collaboration among member countries,” according to the organization’s website.
A meeting between the Obama administration and the leader of GECF would be notable. The vast reserves of shale gas recently discovered in the United States have made the U.S. the largest natural gas producer in the world, surpassing Russia, according to 2009 numbers from the Energy Information Administration. The Marcellus Shale formation, which sits atop several Appalachian states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York, is considered the second-largest gas field in the world (behind only one spanning Qatar and Iran.)
Bokhanovskiy said GECF has not yet asked the United States to be a member and would not say whether the organization will eventually invite the country to join or if the U.S. has asked to join.
He implied, though, that it’s important for countries to coordinate on natural gas development.
“I think this gas train has already started to move,” he said. “The question is whether to sit down in the first wagon or be in the last wagon. And who will be in the cabin driving.”
America’s abundant supply of natural gas has created a glut of gas in the country and near-record-low natural gas prices that are substantially below prices in other countries. That has compelled some companies to stop drilling for gas and also look to export it. Natural gas is not exported in any sizable quantity right now, but one company, Cheniere Energy, plans to begin construction on an export terminal in Louisiana as early as next month after receiving preliminary federal approval for it last year.
Most energy experts say U.S. natural gas prices need to go up some in order to drive economic investment in the resource, but some lawmakers maintain that such low prices are the best possible outcome for consumers who depend on gas for heating their homes.
GECF is often described as the natural gas version of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a group of 12 oil-producing countries largely in the Middle East that influence the price of oil given how much of the global market their countries represent. (Some experts say OPEC is creating high oil prices to benefit its members.)
Bokhanovskiy dismissed that comparison during a discussion with Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, the global consulting energy firm hosting the conference this week.
“There is no basis for this comparison,” he said. “Many times we have repeated that we are not a cartel. We are not controlling prices.”
The other countries that are part of GECF include Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, and Norway are "observer members," according to GECF’s website.