For all the influence and power in fracking today, if the US were to export natural gas that would magnify a hundred fold. Think about the difference between Saudi Arabia only supplying their domestic industries with oil fuel and supplying the world. There’s no comparison.

Natural gas has traditionally been very difficult to export, but some companies want to use LNG (liquefied natural gas) to ship overseas. The US needs to bless that process, and so far they’ve granted a handful of licenses, for export to countries where we have free trade agreements. But faced with an attempt to expand that, the Obama Administration decided to hold off.

The Obama administration punted a decision on whether to prevent a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export license, saying it needs more time to review a complaint that an environmental assessment for the plan did not go far enough.

The Department of Energy (DOE) said it needs to review a complaint regarding a conditional permit granted to Cheniere Energy. That permit would let the firm export LNG to countries without free-trade agreements from its Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana.

So far, it is the only project out of 15 to receive DOE approval to export LNG to such countries.

The Sierra Club had asked DOE for a stay in the approval of the Sabine Pass permit, arguing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) used too lax an environmental assessment in evaluating the export proposal.

The main thing that LNG exports would do in the near term is increase the cost of energy in America. If you take a domestic industry global, the prices then get set on the global market. In an indirect way it probably means more coal production, as domestic natural gas would be less plentiful for use in the United States. But it also means gobs and gobs of money for the exporters.

In addition, it would mean that the fights over fracking we see today would take on a far greater degree of urgency, with far more money at stake.

This makes the fight over LNG export licenses carry new significance. It’s a key element of the debate over fracking. If producers have basically a free rein to export natural gas, it will be nearly impossible to stop the fracking of America.

David Dayen

David Dayen