Delegates from 10 countries — including Hungary, Haiti, India, Japan, and Thailand — argued for increased U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas to increase global energy security and strengthen diplomatic ties during a Thursday forum convened by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power.
Delegates from Hungary and the Czech Republic said expanded LNG exports would bring U.S. gas into competition with Russia, the major supplier of oil and gas in eastern Europe. Increased competition, they argued, would drive down gas prices to the benefit of consumers.
"We need to have more competition to have affordable energy prices," said Anita Orban, ambassador-at-large for energy security for the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Representatives from Japan and Singapore also called for increased U.S. LNG exports, saying it would help diversify domestic energy markets.
"We are a small island state with no energy endowments of our own," said Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Singapore's ambassador to the U.S.
According to Mirpuri, Singapore gets most of its natural gas from Malaysia and Indonesia but hopes to expand the number of countries it buys from so as not to become overly dependent on any one state.
"We've invested in an LNG terminal in May of this year," he said, adding: "We're making the necessary investments in order to have the LNG supply to diversify our energy needs."
The second argument advanced by the delegates in favor of expanded U.S. LNG export activity was that it would improve U.S. diplomatic relations abroad.
Taranjit Singh Sandhu, India's deputy chief of mission, told subcommittee members that upping exports would create "a strong and mutually rewarding energy partnership and further our ties to the benefit of both our countries."
"It's not only about liquefied natural gas," added Ahn Ho-Young, South Korea's ambassador to the United States. "It would open the possibility of strengthening relations between Korea and the U.S. in many different areas."
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., agreed that increased LNG exports would be a boon to the U.S. for both economic and diplomatic reasons.
"It is my hope that we can use this opportunity to better explore how moving forward with American energy exports can help strengthen our ties with foreign nations while at the same time providing mutual benefits domestically here in the U.S. with added job creation and continued energy self-sufficiency," Upton said in his opening remarks.
Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., acknowledged that some interest groups oppose accelerating approval for U.S. LNG export terminals, but he took the position that a move to boost exports would be in the U.S. interest.
"In politics, there are two sides, and there are groups that want the U.S. to move slowly in exporting gas to other countries... [but] we think we can benefit from it," Whitfield said.
The forum saw bipartisan support for the issue, with Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., affirming support for accelerated export permitting. "I think we should move forward with developing natural gas exports," he said.
McNerney did raise the concern, however, that if the U.S distributes increased stores of natural gas abroad it may not know whether the recipient nations have the proper infrastructure to absorb the gas without generating pipeline spills or other forms of pollution.
"The one caution is that we live in an area where we can no longer dump carbon and other greenhouse gases with complete abandon," McNerney said.
The Obama administration has so far approved four LNG export terminals to ship natural gas abroad, with three terminals approved this year.