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Should the U.S. Export Natural Gas?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The United States has a lot of natural gas (I’ve already outlined why here). In fact, natural gas will likely overtake petroleum as the leading fuel source in our energy mix in the next decade or two. Given the current situation in Ukraine, many are wondering whether we should export some as a kind of geopolitical move against Russia.

It’s possible, but should we?

It wouldn’t exactly be easy… Even if permits were issued immediately, it would still take A LOT of money and many years of construction to get going. On top of that European countries would also need to create the infrastructure to receive our exports.

Here’s a look at where Americans are on exporting natural gas from the previous two waves of the UT Energy Poll:

[Note: New Spring 2014 data will be available April 30]

More are now in favor of exporting natural gas to other countries compared to last year, while there’s far less opposition. Still, it’s worth noting that the majority of Americans still don’t even know what fracking is and think we get most of our foreign oil from Saudi Arabia.

If we’re going consider some significant changes in foreign policy and energy strategy, I hope we get more of the country up to speed on what it would mean.

[Update: A deeper dive of the data].
This post originally appeared at Scientific American’s ‘Plugged In

Sheril Kirshenbaum About the Author: Sheril Kirshenbaum is Director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin where she works to enhance public understanding of energy issues and improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Follow on Twitter @Sheril_.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. AnaUnruhCohen 2:31 pm 03/11/2014

    It will be interesting to see where people are in the spring of 2014 after this winter which saw natural gas and propane price spikes and shortages.

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  2. 2. Sheril Kirshenbaum 2:37 pm 03/11/2014

    I’m looking forward to seeing the Spring 2014 data. I just updated the post to note that it will be available on April 30.

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  3. 3. newpapyrus 5:31 pm 03/11/2014

    If would be safer for the US to convert the natural gas into methanol before exporting it. Methanol can be used for electric power production or it can be converted into gasoline or dimethyl ether (which can be used in cheaply modified diesel fuel vehicles).


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  4. 4. jtdwyer 9:25 pm 03/11/2014

    The critical question is, to the extent that there is an environmental impact for using fracking methods to extract remaining natural gas reserves, do Americans wish to incur this environmental damage in order to supply the other countries for political or other reasons? I suspect that this is not the question asked of the survey subjects.
    Moreover, I think this question should be put to a vote rather than being ansewered by interested parties. See
    “All surveys are subject to multiple sources of error. Most of these errors are often impossible to quantify. In addition to sampling error, these errors include coverage error, non-response error, interviewer bias when appropriate, and the error associated with how a question is asked or the response options given. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted probability samples with 100 percent response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal. If this were the case, with a sample size of 2,144 and weighting efficiency of 47.2 percent, the overall margin of error would be 3.1 percentage points at the widest interval.
    “As respondents for the survey were chosen from Toluna’s proprietary panel of survey respondents, this sample is not a probability sample and as such the conditions for calculating a margin of error are not met.”
    I’m not an expert, but while this convenient sample selection methodology might be fine for market research surveys, are they really statistically valid for conducting representative public opinion surveys? What significance is there in the opinions of the uninformed?

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  5. 5. bruderly 3:33 pm 03/13/2014

    Converting natural gas into methanol or dimethyl ether creates more problems without solving the carbon problem: 1) methanol is a systemic poison that enters the body through dermal and oral pathways, 2) methanol burns inside enclosed fuel tanks, methanol does not require an external source of oxygen to create a fire hazard, 3) methanol is still a carbon rich fuel that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when combusted, 4) methanol and dimethyl ether are liquid fuels that are blended with petroleum-based fuels, while the use of these liquid fuels may be profitable for suppliers, their use does nothing to create more competitive markets for consumers who buy motor fuels and vehicles. Cheap natural gas MUST be used to build bridges, commercially viable pathways, to more sustainable low-carbon, ultra-high efficiency energy systems, motor fuels and vehicles.

    Polling questions should be structured to help consumers understand the economic weakness and environmental problems created by policies that nurture the status quo and discourages innovation and competition from non-conventional energy systems. Focus on the export of LNG discounts the opportunities created by the use of natural gas to replace liquid petroleum-based motor fuels in the United States. This Nation must leverage this natural gas windfall to facilitate conversion to low-carbon fuels, renewable energy sources and the widespread use of ultra-efficient end-use technologies.

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  6. 6. fracwatch 1:27 pm 05/9/2014

    If the U.S. is serious about relying on natural gas as an interim fuel, while we transition to renewable energy sources; then a massive effort to add, and convert the existing infrastructure and vehicles into natural gas-consuming capable versions should be undertaken. Exporting it while we continue to indulge in petroleum-based transportation does not make sense.

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