Commentary: A win for Trump’s gas diplomacy

Last week, American liquefied natural gas (LNG) made its way to the somewhat unlikely market of Lithuania. The former Soviet republic traditionally bought its gas from Russian state company Gazprom; this was its first shipment from the United States. For President Donald Trump, that must have been a gratifying sign of the success of his administration’s nascent energy diplomacy.

The U.S. became the world’s largest producer of natural gas around 2011, overtaking its long-time competitor Russia and starting to rival Saudi Arabia in oil production. This was made possible by the shale revolution – the breakthrough of hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking,” that could split rock formations below ground and boost the extraction of oil and gas resources from shale rock formations. Environmentalists oppose LNG exports on the grounds that methane leakage from fracking can make natural gas as harmful to the climate as coal and that the LNG trade involves the energy-intensive measures of freezing gas, shipping it across oceans, and then regassifying – a process that further increases the carbon footprint.

It was the Obama administration that lifted longstanding U.S. restrictions on oil exports and started exporting LNG, but it is Trump who has been able to claim political capital out of the boost in trade. The sector offers the U.S. president bragging rights at home by providing jobs and rising export revenues. With Exxon Mobil’s former CEO, Rex Tillerson, as secretary of state, it is also no surprise that LNG exports are emerging as Trump’s preferred strategy for strengthening relations with Europe and Asia…

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