Huntsman joins campaign against natural gas exports

The rift over exports of U.S. natural gas widened Tuesday, as The Woodlands-based chemical company Huntsman Corp. joined a coalition campaigning against more foreign sales of the fossil fuel.

The company announced it had joined America’s Energy Advantage, a group spearheaded by Dow, Celanese Corp., and other chemical companies and manufacturers worried that more natural gas exports would raise energy and feedstock costs, blunting their current competitive advantage.

The Energy Department is weighing applications from more than a dozen companies to sell up to 22.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to countries that don’t have free trade agreements with the United States.

Huntsman’s CEO warned against allowing “our nation’s natural gas advantage to be stripped and sent overseas to build a new manufacturing base that would otherwise be built here in the U.S.”

“Completely unfettered U.S. exports may enrich a few LNG exporters in the short term,” said CEO Peter Huntsman. “But real, sustained and broad-based growth in the U.S. economy will come from a balanced approach that considers the needs of American manufacturers and consumers.”

Huntsman’s move follows Dow Chemical’s decision to break its longstanding ties with the National Association of Manufacturers, after the group published a statement on its website warning that limiting natural gas exports would have “far-reaching negative effects on the United States.”

Dow said in a statement that NAM had decided to place “the interest of oil and gas producers above the interests of its manufacturer members.”

But the growing fight over liquefied natural gas exports isn’t shaping up as just manufacturers versus Big Oil.

GE and Dominion are set to highlight the value of natural gas exports in a congressional briefing later this week.

And the American Chemistry Council opposes controls on natural gas exports that President Cal Dooley has said would pick winners and losers in the energy marketplace.

A government-commissioned study issued in December concluded that even unlimited exports would broadly benefit the U.S. with up to $47 billion in new economic activity. But that net positive benefit would cause price increases for companies that are big users of energy produced by burning natural gas or are heavily reliant on the fossil fuel as a building block for producing chemicals, fertilizers and other products.

The Energy Department is accepting public comments on the export study through next week, and after an internal review, it may start considering permit applications on a case-by-case basis.