Gas exports won’t hurt US edge, expert says

The federal government probably will approve wider liquefied natural gas exports, and that won’t hurt plans for multibillion-dollar chemical plants along the Texas coast and elsewhere, a leading economist said Wednesday in Houston.

“There will be LNG exports,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for research and information firm IHS. “It’s going to be very hard for Washington to prevent that.”

Speaking during the NAPE Business Conference, part of the NAPE Expo at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Behravesh said the differentials in price between natural gas in the U.S. and in Asia or Europe “are so huge that it’s almost irresistible.”

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Behravesh was one of several speakers throughout a day of networking and discussion at the conference, formerly called the North American Prospect Expo.

Some speakers focused on battling negative public perceptions about the oil industry.

Dana Sigalos, a stakeholder relations manager for ConocoPhillips, said that despite facts in the industry’s favor, companies need to do a better job of making Americans more comfortable with their operations.

Behravesh focused on the economic momentum the oil and gas industry generates in the United States. He said the shale revolution has created 1.7 million domestic jobs so far, a number that is expected to hit 3 million by 2020.

That growth also has created a glut of unfilled jobs in the industry for which skilled workers often can’t be found, Behravesh said.

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Educating and training Americans will help to fill that gap, but changing the immigration system to bring more skilled workers into the country, or to retain more immigrants who have been trained in the United States, will be key, Behravesh said.

On the prospect of liquefied natural gas exports, Behravesh said market forces supporting exports likely will be too strong for the government to reject, despite strong opposition.

Dow Chemical and other companies have opposed natural gas exports because an insulated market can keep prices in the United States depressed and lower costs for domestic operations.

IHS has identified $95 billion in new industrial chemical projects that have been announced in the U.S. because of low-priced natural gas, Behravesh said.

But natural gas exports will not make chemical plant operations less viable, he said.

“Why can’t we do both?” he said. “Let the market work.”

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Read ongoing FuelFix coverage of the debate over exporting U.S. fuel:

Lawmakers propose making LNG exports automatic (Feb. 1)
Shell, El Paso plan LNG export facility (Jan. 28)
US will cap LNG shipments to boost economy (Jan. 25)
Dow Chemical disavows Texas LNG export project it co-owns (Jan. 25)
Lawmakers urge exports of US natural gas (Jan. 24)
Oil industry battles back on natural gas exports (Jan. 17)
Global refining boom could challenge U.S. exports (Jan. 17)
Officials say wider canal can boost natural gas exports (Dec. 19)
Government report predicts big economic boost from natural gas exports (Dec. 5)