It will be some years before tanker loads of liquefied natural gas (LNG) steam out of U.S. ports, but shale gas is already having an impact on world markets “because of all the LNG the U.S. is not importing,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Monday.

While the secretary’s speech at Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy focused on the Department of Energy’s leading renewables and loan guarantee programs, with nary a mention of fossil fuels, the majority of questions from the audience were about natural gas and oil.

Regarding U.S. LNG exports, Moniz said the pending applications to export would be dealt with “more or less” in the order they have been filed. He reminded, however, that the last two of the export licenses to non-Free Trade Agreement countries to be approved were provisional, which means they still face environmental reviews and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission construction permits. That could take about a year, and after that comes financing and construction.

The first project approved is still under construction, Moniz noted. “Granting a license isn’t the same as having gas exported.”

Responding to multiple questions on issues surrounding natural gas production, Moniz said the fuel is both “part of the problem” and “part of the solution,” and it has a strong role to play in underpinning the U.S. economy.

Moniz pointed to the leading role of the United States among developed countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ascribing half the nation’s emission reduction advances so far to the progress in replacing coal with natural gas in fueling power plants. He pointed to the need to be “pragmatic, or practical in dealing with the situation we have,” recognizing that currently 80% of energy production comes from fossil fuels. While the government is strongly supporting emissions-free alternatives, “it is extremely hard to see very rapid choices for deployment” of new technologies.

In the meantime, the Energy Department, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior and Agriculture departments, is working on a study of methane emissions at the wellhead and is expanding that study to include transporting natural gas.

Moniz said “each of the issues [regarding natural gas use] to be addressed has clear solutions.” He hastened to add that “just because they are manageable doesn’t mean they are being managed,” and called for consistent application of best practices.

Progress is being made and new technology is being used to address the problems. For instance, “it’s a lot better to use natural gas engines to drive the [hydraulic fracturing] fracking fluid.” But, natural gas is still an interim solution on the way to emissions-free energy, Moniz advised, saying the time will come when — just as there currently is for coal — there will be a need for carbon capture with natural gas production.

Oil poses a bigger problem, since substitutions for its use in transportation are not readily available. Moniz acknowledged that electric-powered vehicles and the use of bio-fuels are far from being available to mass markets. There are advances being made, however, in reducing emissions from oil use, but so far, shale oil is not “about changing the carbon balance, but about changing the balance of payments,” he said, noting the reduction in U.S. oil imports. “Our imports are at the lowest level in many, many years.”

Again responding to a question, Moniz said less need to import oil imports into the United States “does not change our security posture in that part [Middle East] of the world.” The U.S. has “more security equities than just oil, and to the extent to which our key allies are subject to strong energy security problems, it inevitably influences our freedom of action in national security.”