State Representative Rafael Anchia of Dallas filed legislation Friday that he hopes will position Texas to lead the sustainable age. He describes it as a launching point for a dialogue in the Legislature, a "shell" of a bill that will eventually drive workforce development for the next generation of jobs in renewable energy, and promote foreign direct investment in our natural resources and energy-related small businesses. It's a refreshing and admirable aspiration in a state whose default policy often seems to be that fossil fuels are inexhaustible. But it's the bridge he's chosen to get us there that is bound to make odd bedfellows in the opposition.
A key component in HB 3853 is the export of natural gas -- a commodity we have plenty of, but one whose going price has shriveled since the shale boom glutted the market in 2008. Domestic demand hasn't been able to absorb the excess, but a liquefied natural gas export terminal, like the one the Department of Energy approved in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, could tap into energy-starved markets in Asia and Europe, buoying prices and, Anchia hopes, sluggish gas production activity in Texas.
"Chairman Anchia has taken a position that LNG (liquefied natural gas) exports are good for the economy," says Scott Flukinger, Anchia's legislative counsel and deputy director for the Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs. "We have abundant natural gas. It's part of our tool box in our energy economy to make that fuel available to buyers abroad. There was a time when we thought we'd have to buy it from other people. We're in a good place now. His objective is to equip Texas to take advantage of that opportunity while it lasts."
It's a means to an end, Flukinger says, since the money for Anchia's vision would come from the oilfield clean-up fund.
But it's bound to meet stiff opposition, and not just from the usual suspects in the anti-fracking movement. The chemical industry, which uses natural gas as a feedstock, has opposed LNG exports.
For consumers, it may mean higher electric bills, because such a large swath of Texas power generators run on natural gas. In an analysis last year, the Energy Information Administration calculated exports could raise the price of natural gas at the wellhead by 57 percent over the next 20 years or so. This could translate, EIA predicts, into higher coal usage among power generators.
What's more, exports could result in a slight increase in natural gas imports. Flukinger says Anchia wants to be "responsive" to these concerns.
"We will be having hearings on both international energy markets and global climate in the upcoming weeks and will take testimony on important issues surrounding both renewable and conventional energy sources in Texas," Anchia says in an emailed statement. "At that point, we will determine next steps, if any, on this or related bills."