At his confirmation hearing last week, Department of Energy (DOE) secretary-designate Ernest J. Moniz committed to review the department’s data and studies on natural gas exports, which relied on what some have said is outdated information that failed to examine the regional impacts of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG).

“We need to have strong analysis grounded in the best data…In terms of the export license question, we certainly want to make sure that we are using data that is relevant to the decision at hand,” he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If confirmed, he said the DOE under his leadership would make decisions on gas export applications on a license-by-license basis, taking into consideration cumulative impacts, including the impact of exports on the domestic natural gas market.

Moniz, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), acknowledged his prior support for natural gas exports. “I believe the Natural Gas Act suggests that one should move forward with licenses unless there is a clear public interest issue.” But he did not indicate whether he would step up the permitting of applications to export LNG to world markets if he is confirmed by the Senate.

So far, DOE has slow-walked permits for LNG exports to countries with which the U.S. does not have free trade agreements (FTA). Cheniere Energy Inc. is the only company to have so far secured DOE authorization to export domestically sourced LNG to both FTA and non-FTA countries from its Sabine Pass LNG export project in Louisiana (see NGI, April 18, 2012).

Moniz also fielded questions about his position on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and climate change. Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, home of the Bakken Shale boom, asked the nominee if he believed that fracking was the same across the entire country. “They all involve hydraulic, and they all involve fracturing. But the applications are different [in different regions],” side-stepped Moniz.

Hoeven tried to get Moniz, who supports expanded natural gas use, to commit to state regulation of fracking rather than federal regulation, but the DOE nominee would not go that far. “We need to have best practices” in place for fracking, which would vary site by site.

Moniz believes that fracking, which is used to stimulate shale gas and oil wells, will help provide a low-carbon bridge to a zero-carbon America fueled by renewables and nuclear energy. But he doesn’t see the U.S. reaching that goal anytime soon. Moniz credited the natural gas “revolution” with jobs growth and noted that the nation has enough natural gas to last more than 150 years.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) urged Moniz to ensure that more funding is made available for energy research and development of new technologies, such as micro-seismic imaging, which have been responsible for much of the revolution in natural gas. “We will try to leverage the funding as much as we can,” if confirmed, he said. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) recommended that the tax credit for unconventional gas be repealed with the revenue generated going toward research. “It seems to [me] that it’s done its job” and that the funds should be spent elsewhere, Alexander said.

Given the “breadth of support” for Moniz at the hearing, Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said he hopes to swiftly pass Moniz’s nomination out of the committee. A spokesman for the committee said Moniz’s nomination could be voted out to the Senate floor as early as this week.

Wyden touted natural gas as a low carbon emitter, noting that the Energy Information Administration recently reported that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions dropped to their lowest level since 1994 last year due to power generators’ increasing reliance on low-priced natural gas to fuel their facilities.

On the issue of a carbon tax, Moniz said the administration has not proposed such a tax and has no plans to do so.

Although the nominee previously has been roundly criticized for his past ties to the oil and gas industry, this was not mentioned during the hearing. He was the founding director of the MIT Energy Initiative, which had four founding members: BP plc, Royal Dutch Shell plc, Italy’s Eni SA and Saudi Arabia. American Clean Skies Foundation, which was founded by Aubrey McClendon, the ex-CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp., also participated (see NGI, Feb.4).

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