Rice study: Future increases in US natural gas exports and domestic prices may not be as large as thought

David Ruth
713-348-6327
david@rice.edu 

Jeff Falk
713-348-6775
jfalk@rice.edu 

Rice study: Future increases in US natural gas exports and domestic prices may not be as large as thought

HOUSTON – (Aug. 15, 2012) – Amid policy debate over potential liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the United States, a new paper from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy predicts the long-term volume of exports from the U.S. will not likely be very large. The paper also argues that the impact on U.S. domestic natural gas prices will not be large if exports are allowed by the U.S government.   

Significant changes in the global gas market in the past decade, particularly the emergence of shale in North America, have dramatically altered the global outlook for LNG markets and fueled the commercial aspirations of firms seeking to seize the apparent profit opportunity offered by exports. The altered outlook has also raised the concern that allowing exports from the U.S. will force prices up and negatively impact industrial activity and household budgets.

The paper, “U.S. LNG Exports: Truth and Consequence,” was authored by Kenneth Medlock, the Baker Institute’s James A. Baker III and Susan G. Baker Fellow in Energy and Resource Economics and an adjunct professor and lecturer in Rice’s Department of Economics.

“The lens that has been offered policymakers to address the question of U.S. LNG exports is inappropriate because it assumes a level of exports without accounting for the international market reaction,” Medlock said. “The question before policymakers is one of licensing a capability, not licensing a fixed volume. Therefore, this issue must be viewed in the context of international trade if informed policy decisions are to be made.”  

Previous studies on the impact of U.S. LNG exports on domestic prices have assumed a particular volume of LNG exports from the U.S. when assessing the domestic price impact, but they did not allow for domestic and international market interactions. This is a serious flaw, said Medlock, because market interactions will influence price movements and trade volume.

“The bottom line is that certification of LNG exports will not likely produce a large domestic price impact, although the entities involved may be exposed to significant commercial risk,” Medlock said. “As the story plays out, the international gas market will evolve into something dramatically different from what it is today.”

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For more information or to schedule an interview with Medlock, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at jfalk@rice.edu or 713-348-6775.

Related materials:

The study, “U.S. LNG Exports: Truth and Consequence”: http://bakerinstitute.org/publications/US%20LNG%20Exports%20-%20Truth%20and%20Consequence%20Final_Aug12-1.pdf

Medlock bio: http://www.bakerinstitute.org/personnel/fellows-scholars/kmedlock

Founded in 1993, the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston ranks among the top 20 university-affiliated think tanks globally and top 30 think tanks in the United States. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute sponsors more than 20 programs that conduct research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows and Rice University scholars. Learn more about the institute at www.bakerinstitute.org or on the institute’s blog, http://blogs.chron.com/bakerblog.

About Jeff Falk