The Senate Energy Committee’s natural gas forums, scheduled for May 2013, will assess several issues surrounding natural gas development to ensure that upcoming policies will maximize economic benefits while maintaining environmental safety.

On April 3, 2013, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) announced the committee’s plan to hold three natural gas forums in May. The forums will address topics including a scrutiny of estimates of domestic supply, and potential benefits and consequences resulting from expansion of exports.

The three forums scheduled for May 16, 21, and 23, correspond to the following subjects:

  • Infrastructure, transportation, research, and innovation, including pipeline upgrades and increased natural gas use as transportation fuel
  • Domestic supply and exports, with regard to possible consequences of export expansion
  • Shale development best practices and environmental concerns

The discussion will be open to the public. Sen. Wyden stressed the need for policies that can maximize economic benefits from natural gas development in an environmentally safe manner.

While hydraulic fracturing has simplified access to clean and affordable natural gas, it has drawn criticism from environmentalists due to potential threats to water quality. The technology, which has stimulated shale development across several states, is under tough scrutiny to establish sound drilling standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a study to evaluate the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water quality (draft expected in 2014). The administration is reviewing a draft rule developed by the Bureau of Land Management to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.

The agenda for the forum comes at a time when the Department of Energy is evaluating several permit applications to export natural gas to non-free trade agreement countries. Several manufacturers oppose expansion of exports as it could jeopardize the cost-advantage of natural gas as feedstock for chemical companies. However, the drilling industry and export supporters emphasize that current domestic natural gas prices and demand are insufficient to sustain the boom. Supporters also emphasize the potential of exports to strengthen diplomatic relations. A 2012 DOE report concluded that expansion of liquefied natural gas exports would result in net economic benefits to the U.S.

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