Natural gas infrastructure must be a key national security priority

Geoff Davis Former Member of Congress
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Congress recently passed a much-needed aid package for Ukraine that will help stabilize the country’s economy. However, the serious actions in Congress were undercut by photos distributed via Twitter of diplomats posting with handwritten cards containing a message of solidarity.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez put it best: “President Putin is watching … waiting to see if we have the resolve to act.” Unfortunately, diplomacy by hashtag doesn’t send a sign that the United States is serious in our resolve to stop Russia from stomping over Eastern Europe – again.

If we really want to prove not just to Russia but to the world that we’re serious, one of the most important steps we could take would be a significant infrastructure investment to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Ukraine and elsewhere. A study from NERA Economic Consulting updated this month indicates that the economic benefits from LNG exports would be a significant boon to the U.S. Unfortunately, we do not currently have the means for large-scale liquefied natural gas exports but, if we were smart, we would make such an investment. Not only would we realize significant benefits here at home, the ability to export LNG would be a strong diplomatic tool – the kind of tool that’s missing from our arsenal of hashtags and smart-power tweets.

Russia possesses the largest known natural gas reserves in the world, but the reserves are primarily owned by Gazprom, a now-privatized company that rose from the fallen Soviet Union’s Ministry of Gas Industry. The current Russian government owns a major stake in the company, which helps Russia supply a quarter of the European Union’s gas consumption. The majority of the gas is supplied via transit through Ukraine, and that economic stronghold over much of Europe combined with the strategic value of Ukraine’s shipping routes makes clearer Putin’s interest in the region.

The Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act by U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) would cut through the red tape, accelerate approvals of LNG exports to our allies and bring a halt to U.S. Department of Energy regulations that put us in violation of World Trade Organization rules banning certain export restrictions. Examined in detail last week during an Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, the legislation would help propel the 24 export applications the Obama administration is holding in bureaucratic limbo. The actions contained in this bill combined with investing in the infrastructure to expedite natural gas exports would be a mighty diplomatic tool.

During the hearing, Hungarian Ambassador-at-Large for Energy Security Anita Orban made a strong case for such measures, explaining that U.S. exports would loosen the shackle of Russia’s control over Central and Eastern Europe. The exports “would immediately change the business calculus of infrastructure investments and send an extremely important message of strategic reassurance to the region which currently feels more threatened than any time since the Cold War … In short, by liberalizing LNG exports, by eliminating the legal and administrative obstacles to the free trading of this vital, domestically produced commodity, the United States would provide fast and long-lasting protection for its allies against the most important dangers of natural gas dependency.”

Too often, resolutions and bills passed by Congress are nothing more than camera and headline fodder. The Ukraine aid package is a serious indication to our allies – and to our enemies – that we will continue to stand against tyranny and oppression. In today’s globally interconnected world, though, it’s not enough; investing in infrastructure to export liquefied natural gas to Ukraine and elsewhere would send a significant message of economic strength, which can be more influential than the number of warships we dispatch.

Geoff Davis is a former U.S. Representative for Northern and Eastern Kentucky.