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The Battle Over Who Gets U.S. Natural Gas

Chemical companies want to limit exports and keep their costs down
A crew works on a drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa.
A crew works on a drilling rig at a well site for shale-based natural gas in Zelienople, Pa.Photograph by Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

In the summer of 2008, two natural gas import terminals opened along the U.S. Gulf Coast: one in Freeport, Tex., and the other about 140 miles northeast near the mouth of the Sabine River in Louisiana. The projects signaled America’s growing dependence on foreign energy. Prices had more than doubled over the previous year: More imports from places such as Qatar and Yemen seemed like the only option.

Within a year, the U.S. was swimming in abundant, cheap natural gas as horizontal drilling techniques and hydraulic fracturing unlocked a century’s worth of supply from shale formations in Texas, Pennsylvania, and North Dakota. Today, both terminals are being turned into export facilities. On May 17, the U.S. Department of Energy approved Freeport’s application to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to countries without free-trade agreements with the U.S.—which account for about 90 percent of global gross domestic product. Two years ago it approved Cheniere Energy’s request to do the same thing at its Sabine Pass LNG project.