Colson: It’s our natural gas, why not keep it at home? |

Colson: It’s our natural gas, why not keep it at home?

with John Colson

OK, so I’m not an expert on U.S. energy policy. I will admit that up front.

But I’m puzzled about all the talk these days concerning the creation of a new industry — exporting natural gas — allowing facilities built not that long ago for importing natural gas to be retrofitted and “repurposed” (jeez, I loathe techno-babble) to handle the exports.

There are several reasons for my puzzlement, which actually is too mild a description of what I’m feeling. For the sake of being polite in our political discourse, but still honest, let’s just call it extreme apprehension, or EA for short.

As things stand today, it seems our country, through energy conservation and the massive natural-gas drilling boom underway in many regions of the country (including Colorado), is weaning itself from the foreign-petroleum tit.

But now the industry wants to sell its surplus gas on the international market.


To make money, shrink the U.S. trade deficit, that sort of thing, of course, regardless of any concern for our domestic energy needs.

This seems contradictory to all the noise the industry has made for years about natural gas being the savior of the nation, providing jobs and relatively cheap energy that is relatively cleaner than its counterparts, coal and oil.

Now, we all know there is a massive surplus of natural gas resources in parts of this country, as evidenced by the industry’s rush to gather up leases and claims and then letting the resources lie fallow when prices plummet, as they did over the last few years.

Once prices rise again, of course, the industry stands ready to get back to the business of drilling and pumping all that gas out of the ground and into pipelines.

Selling to foreign customers, it appears to me, would take advantage of the still higher prices those foreign customers might pay. This idea would clearly be good for the industry’s bottom line, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, given the nature of our economy.

But it leaves a lot of questions unanswered, not the least being: Mightn’t be better for our energy situation, here in the U.S., to leave all surplus gas in the ground for future needs?

Then again, what about those who live in the areas, including Colorado, where there remain serious questions about the human health impacts of the gas drilling industry?

The energy industry has made it a practice to belittle and reject such concerns as the spoutings of anti-business environmentalists and others.

But more and more information is coming to light these days about just how serious and realistic those concerns might be. The plain fact of the matter is that we simply are not sure, as a nation, about the health hazards of living near the drilling rigs. And while at one time the rigs were located in remote areas far from human habitation, they now are in peoples’ backyards.

A Texas jury thought the concerns credible enough to award nearly $3 million to a Decatur, Texas, family, by the name of Parr, whose 40-acre spread was surrounded by close to 20 gas wells.

The industry, predictably, has responded with derision concerning the merits of the Parr case, and is likely to appeal to a higher court and perhaps get the award overturned.

But given our lack of knowledge, I’m thinking it would be prudent to embark on exhaustive, nationally oriented studies to determine exactly what the hazards are, before giving the green light to exports. A big export push, in my view, is likely to intensify the drilling frenzy here at home, possibly as the expense of our own citizens’ health.

Sure, existing LNG importing facilities would be left standing idle, but so what? Maybe they can be cleaned up and turned into parks for children and families, rather than being even further industrialized and quite possibly posing increasing threats to the health and safety of those living nearby.

Otherwise, it seems to me, allowing the industry to shift its focus to exports might ultimately be bad for this country’s energy needs, by shipping resources overseas that might be needed here.

It also would be tantamount to openly declaring that some parts of this country should be recognized as possible sacrifice zones in the pursuit of corporate profits, and that those living there should just accept it.

Seems short-sighted and anti-American, to me.

To paraphrase one of my personal heroes, the late, great Mike Royko, I may be wrong about all this, but I doubt it.

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