Will Obama Help Allies? Central European Countries Appeal For US Shale Gas

  • Date: 09/03/14
  • Barney Jopson, Financial Times

Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have urged the US Congress to help them buy American natural gas and reduce their dependence on Russia by loosening US export limits.

In an unusually bold step, the four countries’ ambassadors to Washington sent joint letters to top lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives urging them to assist in expediting exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.

The Ukraine crisis has revived concerns over Russia using its natural gas as a geopolitical weapon, and the ambassadors noted that their countries bought between 70 per cent and 100 per cent of their gas from the country.

“The presence of US natural gas would be much welcome in central and eastern Europe, and congressional action to expedite LNG exports to America’s allies would come at a critically important time for the region,” they wrote in letters to Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, and John Boehner, speaker of the House.

The US does not currently sell any LNG to Europe and Congress has no direct control over export approvals. That lies in the hands of the energy department, and the ambassadors flirted with criticism of the bureaucratic process by describing it as a “major hurdle”.

They went on: “Energy security is not only a day-to-day issue for millions of citizens in our region, but it is one of the most important security challenges that America’s allies face in central and eastern Europe today.” The letters were sent on Thursday and made public on Friday.

However, even in the absence of restrictions the US could not help Europe today because its first export terminal for LNG is not due to be completed until the second half of 2015.

Some proponents of freer exports say that loosening restrictions could nonetheless send a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the US would not let its allies be pushed around.

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