Exporting natural gas simply isn't as easy as exporting wheat. Unsurprisingly, LNG satisfied less than 10 percent of global gas demand in 2010. Nor are American producers guaranteed contracts. Other large suppliers (Qatar, Australia) might undercut U.S. prices. But the global LNG market could absorb some American shale-gas production. Why discourage this? A study commissioned by the Department of Energy suggests that the price impact would be modest.
The truth is that the United States needs domestic and foreign buyers for its natural gas. Supply is outpacing demand, leading to a collapse in prices and drilling activity. Gas rigs are down half from a year ago, reports the energy firm Baker Hughes. Prices can't be held at artificially low levels. Companies won't drill unless they can profitably sell what they find.
A policy that discriminates against producers in favor of consumers by restricting foreign sales will hurt both. The gas boom will recede as an engine of growth. For years, Americans have complained about trade deficits. Now that we have something more to sell, we shouldn't turn away customers.
Robert J. Samuelson is a Washington Post columnist.
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