Shippin' Shale: Energy Independence Means Exporting It So We Can Import It. Got That?

Yeah, it doesn't make sense to us either. A couple of weeks ago we asked if America could stop pretending that politicians and their benefactors in the energy industry actually give two shits about "energy independence" or "energy security," or any of the other portent-laden, focus-grouped catch phrases they lob at us.

Reason being, a Houston-based company just won approval to begin exporting shale gas -- the vastest source of domestic fossil fuel we have -- to other countries. This was supposed to be the Methadone weaning us off of that Middle Eastern smack while we figure out the whole renewable thing.

Lawmakers, including the most senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, worried that exporting this natural resource would accomplish nothing but increasing our dependence on foreign fossil fuels, raising energy costs for the rest of us and squandering a cleaner-burning way to keep the lights on. Turns out, he's probably right.

According to the Energy Information Administration, gas prices at the wellhead may increase by as much as 57 percent, which is exactly the point. Natural gas prices have been in the dumps since 2008, reducing the commercial viability of shale plays like the Barnett here in North Texas, and the Marcellus up in Pennsylvania. Things are so bad even shale cheerleader Chesapeake Energy announced Monday that it's slashing spending on gas fields after natural gas prices hit a 10-year low at $2.231 per million British Thermal Units. It's why everybody's in South Texas now, where there's oil and condensate in the shale going for around a bill a barrel. But if you can open new markets up for your gas, increase demand and the price.

It's gonna suck for you and me, because as a result, we'll pay higher utility and heating rates, the agency reports.

But the EIA also points out an insidious side-effect we didn't see coming. The whole point of shale gas as a bridge fuel is that it burns cleaner the coal. When we export natural gas and its price gets jacked up, electricity generators will lean harder on coal. Back to square one.

The other ironic-as-hell consequence is that we'll have to import natural gas, primarily from Canada. So, let's recap: Shale gas is vital to our energy independence, the energy industry and politicians tell us repeatedly. But it's cheap right now, which is great for us and shitty for the industry, so they're exporting that asset so vital to our national energy security, raising both the price of gas and electricity while making us more reliant on foreign sources of energy. Because we sold ours.

And yes, Rick Perry, natural gas, even from Canada, is foreign.

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Brantley Hargrove