U.S. must avoid addiction to imported natural gas

From Keith Trent, Duke Energy's chief strategy, policy and regulatory officer:

The United States could become addicted to imported liquefied natural gas as electric utilities are forced to use more of this fuel to meet our growing demand for electricity. If Congress isn't careful in the way it regulates carbon dioxide, consumers will see electric rates driven up because natural gas prices will be tied to the world price for oil.

LNG is extracted overseas, largely in oil-rich nations. It is liquefied by freezing it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, loaded onto a tanker and transported to the highest bidder. When it reaches U.S. shores, it is warmed, regasified and sent through high pressure pipelines to consumers.

It currently supplies about 8 percent of the world natural gas market, but if the global marketplace continues to develop at its current pace, that's expected to be over 20 percent by 2025. Relying more on LNG forces the U.S. to compete with Europe, Australia and Asia for this valuable commodity. If this isn't troubling enough, consider that Russia, Iran and Qatar have over half the world's gas reserves.

Fueled by cheap prices, lower investment costs and the fuel's lower emissions, the late '90s saw a surge of natural gas power plants. Nearly 90 percent of the U.S. power generation capacity added since 1998 is natural gas-fired. Already, some areas use natural gas to generate a large portion of their electricity – nearly 50 percent of the power in California and Texas and 40 percent in Florida.

Two years ago, Congress renewed the 25-year moratorium on domestic oil and natural gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, effectively making unavailable a major domestic supply of natural gas that could help meet U.S. energy needs. LNG will be all that's left to make up the shortfall.

There's a better way.

We urgently need climate change legislation, but it must be done correctly. It must jump-start the commercial development of CO {-2} capture and storage technologies that will help us burn coal more cleanly. It must encourage the development of more nuclear power plants and resolve the nuclear spent fuel issue. It must dramatically increase renewable energy research and development dollars. At the state level, we must change the way electric utilities and their customers approach energy efficiency.

Consumers are already hooked on gasoline. They shouldn't face addiction to another fuel because of policies that don't balance our energy, economic and environmental needs.