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New York Times has About-Face on Gas

By Daniel J. Graeber | Tue, 18 December 2012 23:01 | 3

Recent reports on the prospective economic benefits of liquefied natural gas exports from the United States were able to persuade The New York Times that any "modestly negative impact" was worth the risk.  Reports from the U.S. Energy Department suggested recently that the country could realize a net economic gain from LNG exports. On the plus side, the reports find signs of the country's growing influence in the global energy sector. On the other hand, at least one of those reports warns that LNG exports could lead to more of the controversial extraction method known as fracking and suggests there may be few benefits for average Americans. The Times, in a Sunday editorial, said Washington should accelerate the approval process for LNG. Just last year, however, the newspaper was sounding the alarm over the "natural gas rush."

The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration and the independent NERA Economic Consulting issued reports on the potential benefits and consequences of LNG exports from the United States. The Times said it viewed current LNG export restrictions as "anachronistic" given recent studies that suggest such exports could result in net economic benefits for the country. NERA's report for the U.S. State Department, however, finds the economic benefits won't be the same for all socioeconomic groups. For some in the United States, there won't be any benefit at all.

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"LNG exports are not likely to affect the overall level of employment in the U.S.," the report read. "In no scenario is the shift in employment out of any industry projected to be larger than normal rates of turnover of employees in those industries."

NERA's report finds the net economic benefit to the United States is realized through the production of large quantities of shale natural gas. Sierra Club President Robin Mann said the increased use of natural gas is "particularly frightening" for his supporters.  For LNG exports, the advocacy group said such a move would inevitably lead to more pipeline spills and carbon emissions brought on by the increased use of fracking. The Times, in its editorial, said environmental concerns are best addressed through tighter regulations on natural gas production, however, not through a restriction of exports.

But in June of last year, the newspaper of record seemed to offer a different position. Then, it cited countless e-mails, internal documents and data taken from thousands of natural gas wells that led its reporters to suggest the coming natural gas boom was, according to one source, equivalent to a Ponzi scheme. More than a month later, the Times' own public editor described the June article as a "journalistic gamble," saying the report raised serious questions about balance and sourcing.

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A recent critique of the newspaper said "we are no longer dependent on the Times" as the gold-standard of productive journalism. The Sunday editorial offers more balance by noting trade-offs are inherent in a practice that inevitably means a tighter embrace of fossil fuels at a time when climate concerns are growing. And an editorial is just that – an opinion from one newspaper in what one media scholar dubbed a "meteoric shower of facts" raining down on the American digital consumer. This time, however, the newspaper notes there's no certainty on LNG exports. Groups likes the Sierra Club have issued formal objections to LNG plans and, of the 15 new terminals proposed, the Times notes only four will be decided upon next year.

"At the very least the administration should give the green light to the four that are pending and accelerate the review process for the rest," the editorial reads.

By. Daniel Graeber of Oilprice.com

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  • bmz on December 19 2012 said:
    The correct comparison is LNG exports versus domestic energy independence from using natural gas as a transportation fuel. Viewed in that way, LNG exports are clearly not in the national interest.
  • SA Kiteman on December 20 2012 said:
    Is there an LNG transportation fuel shortage in the US that I have not heard about?
  • Robert Godfrey on December 22 2012 said:
    The NERA report fails to take into account the already-lowered US LNG selling price, and its potential impact on natural gas pricing at home. At least two long-term LNG export deals have been made to sell to Asia at Henry Hub-linked prices, rather than to the price of oil. That lower pricing will likely increase demand for US LNG, potentially reducing US supply. That could raise domestic natural gas prices significantly above the pricing considered in NERA's analysis.

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