A natural gas company operating in Yemen said there was nothing to media reports stating al-Qaida militants killed four soldiers in a weekend attack. The country was the source of recent terrorist warnings from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa remains closed because of the security situation in Yemen. Washington's hackles were raised by al-Qaida plans to target Yemeni energy infrastructure. In the latest twist, a U.S. lawmaker said capitalizing on the natural gas boom through exports would expose the country to national security risks from terrorism.
Energy company Yemen LNG said it heard of the weekend attacks on the Balhaf export terminal through media reports. Several news outlets, citing unnamed or anonymous sources, reported al-Qaida militants killed four soldiers in their sleep in an attack on Balhaf, the country's lone liquefied natural gas export terminal. Drone strikes over Yemen increased in the wake of an early August security warning linking al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to Yemen's al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and a security source working in the energy sector said the raid on Balhaf was in response to those incidents.
Yemen LNG said no such incident took place, but acknowledged there was an attack involving the military and local tribesman about 35 miles from the export terminal. Last week, the government in Yemen said it thwarted an al-Qaida attack on an oil terminal as well as Balhaf. That coincided with the evacuation of some embassy staff from Sanaa and a series of drone strike that left at least 15 people dead.
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to President Barack Obama questioning whether the approval of LNG export terminals was the right thing to do given the Yemeni security threat. A bicameral report last week said domestic natural gas prices would increase in response to LNG exports, forcing the economy to rely more on cheap and dirty coal. Markey expressed concern that if the United States doesn't keep a tight grip on its own natural gas, it may have to import more LNG from Yemen and subsequently expose Boston and its Everett LNG terminal to additional security risks. He called on the Department of Energy to take another look at the implications of exporting domestic natural gas and consider whether exports will in turn lead to a reduction in imports from countries like Yemen.
Last week's bicameral report, led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said exporting LNG would lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions because the liquefaction process is energy intensive. Critics from the environmental community say LNG exports would lead to more hydraulic fracturing, viewed in some circles as a threat to drinking water supplies.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz vowed to make haste on LNG export decisions when he took office early this year. The Department of Energy is still assessing more than a dozen applications for LNG exports to countries that do not have a free-trade agreement with the United States. It said it considers economic, environmental and energy security risks when weighing LNG applications. A controversial study commissioned by the Energy Department last year supported the economic argument. Despite the clamor, the word isn't out yet on pollution, leaving critics like Markey to put a new, and decidedly Bush-era, twist on the LNG debate.