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Guest column/Natural gas: America’s next economic renaissance?

March 18, 2013
Weirton Daily Times

America is on the verge of an energy renaissance that a few short years ago would have been unthinkable. This coming energy boom - if it's allowed to happen - would provide a much-needed shot in the arm to our economy. It would spur job creation, lower energy prices, and put America on the path toward energy independence. The only obstacle in the way of this game-changing opportunity is, naturally, Washington, D.C.

As everyone in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio now knows, we are standing atop one of the largest natural gas reserves on the planet. Recent technological advances in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling have made reaching these enormous gas deposits possible. But, as we've seen with so many private sector success stories, bureaucrats and politicians in Washington have a habit of racing toward success and throwing wrenches into the engine of progress. And I fear, they're starting to look for wrenches in the case of our oil and natural gas.

These wrenches come in all shapes and sizes. Among others, they come in the form of increased and duplicative regulations by the federal government. Just last week, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service released a report with mixed results. From 2007-2012, natural gas production surged by 20 percent nationally. However, this 20 percent increase in production came entirely on private lands. Unfortunately, the same report states that natural gas development on federal lands - huge swaths of the western United States and off-shore managed and controlled by President Barack Obama and his administration - plummeted by 33 percent during the past two years. The private sector - American workers, businesses, and taxpayers - is trying to take advantage of this opportunity, while the federal government is content to block progress and collect taxes off of their labor.

In his State of the Union address, the president stated that America is producing more natural gas than ever, but he failed to point out that this surge in natural gas production is happening in spite of his policies, not because of them. In that same speech President Obama told the American people that his administration will "keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits." This statement is in sharp contrast to what's really happening. Maybe he doesn't know that the average time to process a drilling permit has increased by 41 percent from 2006-2011.

This trend, that began before Obama took office, continues unabated. And, it does not make sense for America.

We have an abundant supply of natural gas right under our feet, but it is now selling at extremely low prices. In order to ensure this resource remains economically viable to produce, and that we continue to see jobs and economic development in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, we must open up new markets. To make sure this happens, I drafted a letter to the Secretary of Energy - a bipartisan letter signed by 110 of my House colleagues - urging the Obama administration to begin looking for exporting opportunities.

If Washington was to allow America to be an energy powerhouse - a global energy producer - it would have important geopolitical benefits as well. For decades, Russia has, at times, used their natural gas as a weapon to squeeze their energy customers in Eastern Europe, like the Ukraine and Poland, by threatening to turn off (and in some cases actually turning off) their natural gas supplies in the dead of winter. Imagine if Eastern Europe had another reliable option, like America, from which to buy their natural gas.

Asian countries like Japan and South Korea are looking to fuel their economies with imported natural gas. Iran is still able to bring in revenue from exporting their natural gas. Wouldn't it be wise to further isolate a rogue nation like Iran by taking its energy customers?

Natural gas is a vital part of a true "all of the above" approach to energy production that utilizes America's God-given energy resources to create jobs, increase America's energy independence, and lowers energy prices. And, all along the Ohio River, we have at our fingertips a tremendous opportunity to be an important player in America's energy renaissance - if only the federal government would become a partner in progress.

(Johnson, R-Marietta, represents Ohio's 18th Congressional District.)

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