On December 28, Bloomberg reported on a US Department of Energy analysis that found that increasing exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States would result in a 5% decrease in natural gas prices in Asia along with a 1% increase in US prices. The contracted researchers concluded that this would be a net benefit for the US economy as higher gas prices would result in larger profits for US gas companies and more spending on increasing gas drilling.
The study, conducted by researchers at the consulting firm Oxford Economics and the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, does not appear to contemplate the climate effects of increased natural gas drilling and burning, despite the fact that experts have identified climate change as a significant threat to US security interests and the economy. In fact, the word climate only appears once in the entire report (in a passing reference to the COP21 climate negotiations), and the researchers built the assumption that there would be no change in environmental policies into their models.
The researchers found that increasing LNG exports would expand natural gas drilling in the United States. In the first of the key points in the report’s executive summary, the authors write: “The majority of the increase in LNG exports is accommodated by expanded domestic production rather than reductions in domestic demand.”
The authors’ second key point is that the increased LNG exports advocated will result in higher energy prices in the United States. From the executive summary: “In every case, greater LNG exports raise domestic prices and lower prices internationally.” Higher prices with no reduction in demand, as well as access to international markets, would entail bigger profits for US drillers.
The increase in GDP from gas producers’ higher profits would offset the negative impact of higher prices on the US economy, according to the report.
As mentioned above, the study was conducted on contract by economists at Oxford Economics, a UK-based consulting firm, and by Kenneth Medlock III, the James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow in Energy and Resource Economics at Rice University. On its website, Oxford Economics touts its work for multinational corporate clients, including a number of oil and gas firms. Oxford’s clients include supermajor oil producers BP, Chevron, Eni, and Shell as well as the mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.
The James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy, where report author Medlock is a fellow, is an oil-and-gas-industry-funded unit at Rice University. Its members, which fund the institute at levels between $25,000 and $75,000 per year, include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell as well as LNG export company Cheniere Energy. FTI Consulting, a public relations firm that runs the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s Energy in Depth campaign, is a “Director’s Circle” member of the Baker Institute, paying $75,000 per year for access to the institute’s advisory meetings and conferences and private briefings at their headquarters. In 2012, the Baker Institute, in conjunction with Harvard’s industry-funded Belfer Center, published “The Geopolitics of Natural Gas,” a project steered by a Shell employee and funded by ConocoPhillips, that also endorsed increasing LNG exports.
The Department of Energy study, dated October 29, 2015, seems to be another iteration of the Obama administration’s climate ambivalence. As the President publicly describes climate change as a major threat that can’t be dealt with “through pouring money at it,” his administration has relied on analyses by oil and gas industry consulting firms to justify policies that promise to increase the production and consumption of fossil fuels. Since Obama has taken office, his administration has issued permits to liquefy and export natural gas, approved oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, and, most recently, approved a budget deal lifting the ban on crude oil exports.
PAI has covered the industry-tied science used to advance the oil and gas industry’s agenda in great depth since 2012. This study, and others, can be found in our database of “frackademic” studies here. We have also created a guide to the “frackademia” phenomenon, with profiles of its major players, which is available here.
Update (January 11, 2016):
Itai Vardi published an examination of Rice University’s Baker Institute at DeSmogBlog that goes into the institute’s oil and gas ties in greater depth than the discussion above.
The Baker Institute’s oil and gas backing and its experts’ connections to the industry are mapped below using the LittleSis oligrapher tool: