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Gardner: Colorado natural gas could buy diplomatic influence in Europe

Author: Tom Ramstack - September 13, 2018 - Updated: September 18, 2018

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Weld Oil Well
A natural gas well in Weld County shot in 2015. (Scott Branson/Flickr)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s plans for Colorado’s natural gas production reach far beyond economic development into U.S. foreign policy.

“Colorado could play a key role in countering Russian aggression,” the Colorado Republican told Colorado Politics.

The U.S. Geological Survey says recent discoveries show Colorado might have the nation’s second-largest natural gas reserves, most of it lying untapped in the Piceance Basin in the state’s northwest corner.

So far, economic development plans call for the gas to supply the U.S. market and to provide exports to Asian countries.

But Gardner says the gas could be liquefied and shipped to Europe for a bigger market and to counter the political influence Russians are gaining from their Nord Stream pipelines carrying gas to their European neighbors. The pipelines supply about 43 percent of the European Union’s natural gas, some of it to countries that dislike Russia’s political influence but feel dependent on its energy resources.

“The U.S. could push back on Vladimir Putin,” partly with Colorado’s natural gas, Gardner said.

The issue arose Thursday as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which includes Gardner as a member, held a hearing to discuss potential U.S. liquefied natural gas exports to Europe.

Congress is trying to take a bigger role in European energy supplies as recent geological discoveries reveal bigger opportunities for natural gas production and export by the United States. They also are revealing options to compete with Russian suppliers in a contest some Russian politicians are calling the “gas war.”

Gardner has argued strongly in Congress for a policy of caution toward Russia, once even co-sponsoring legislation to sanction the country for its alleged meddling in the campaign that led to the election of President Donald Trump.

His recent foreign policy strategies also reflect his efforts to promote Colorado’s energy industry, which he said could be used as “a diplomatic tool.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had been set to vote Thursday on a bill Gardner co-authored called the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018. A provision of the bill would require the U.S. State Department to develop “a new comprehensive U.S. policy to promote energy exports” in Asian countries.

Preparations for an onslaught by Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas delayed the vote.

A rendering of the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal at Coos Bay, Oregon. (Courtesy Jordan Cove LNG)

The main avenue for liquefied natural gas from Colorado would be through pipelines leading to the planned Jordan Cove Energy Project at Coos Bay, Oregon. The plant would be used as a main depot for exporting liquefied natural gas.

“I strongly support Jordan Cove,” Gardner said.

His recommendation for liquefied natural gas exports to Europe fits closely with comments from Steven Winberg, the U.S. Energy Department’s assistant secretary of fossil energy. Winberg testified during the Senate hearing Thursday.

“LNG (liquefied natural gas), including U.S. LNG, provides an important option for Europe as it pursues diversification of energy supply,” Winberg said in his testimony. “Particularly as [European Union] member states decrease their reliance on generation from coal to comply with EU emission goals, European countries are becoming more dependent on gas overall.”

The ability for U.S. gas suppliers to compete in Europe has been slowed by the long government permitting process for pipelines and political opposition, he said.

The Jordan Cove Energy Project won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2009 but the same agency later denied the approval after complaints from environmentalists, landowners and Native American tribes. They said the environmental impact would create pollution and damage their property.

Nevertheless, Energy Department officials want to increase natural gas production and exports.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts domestic gas production will rise from 81 billion cubic feet per day this year to 103 billion cubic feet per day by 2029. About 10 percent of U.S. liquefied natural gas exports are sent to Europe.

“With U.S. LNG exports on the rise, U.S LNG will increase the liquidity of global LNG trade and enhance supply security for Europe,” Winberg said.

Gardner envisions another undeveloped market for Colorado’s natural gas. The abundance of ethane found in the state’s natural gas reserves make them good candidates for manufacturing plastics.

Plans are being made to build “cracker” plants in Colorado that can convert the natural gas to plastics, Gardner said.

Tom Ramstack

Tom Ramstack