WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Energy Department pledged to increase use of natural gas Tuesday as a way to combat climate change even as the nation seeks to boost domestic energy production.
Ernest Moniz, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said “a stunning increase” in production of domestic natural gas in recent years was nothing less than a “revolution” that has led to reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause global warming.
The natural gas boom also has led to a dramatic expansion of manufacturing and job creation, Moniz told the Senate Energy Committee.
Even so, Moniz stopped short of endorsing widespread exports of natural gas, saying he wanted to study the issue further.
A recent study commissioned by the Energy Department concluded that exporting natural gas would benefit the U.S. economy even if it led to higher domestic prices for the fuel.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate energy panel, called the DOE study flawed and said it relied on old data and unrealistic market assumptions.
Moniz said is open to reviewing the study to ensure that officials have the best possible data before making any decisions.
“We certainly want to make sure that we are using data that is relevant to the decision at hand,” he said.
Many U.S. energy companies are hoping to take advantage of the natural gas boom by exporting liquefied natural gas to Europe and Asia, where prices are far higher. Nearly two dozen applications have been filed to export liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to countries that do not have free trade agreements with the United States.
Consumer advocates and some manufacturers that use natural gas as a raw material or fuel source oppose exports, which they say could drive up domestic prices and increase manufacturing costs. Many environmental groups also oppose LNG exports because of fears that increased drilling could lead to environmental problems.
Natural gas results in fewer carbon emissions than other fossil fuels such as coal or oil. But environmental groups worry that controversial drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could cause damage drinking water supplies or cause other problems.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the panel’s senior Republican, pushed Moniz to support gas exports, which she would help her state’s economy.
Moniz said he would decide on a case by case basis based on a “transparent, analytically based” review.
Moniz endorsed Obama’s “all of the above” approach to energy and said that if confirmed, he also would push for renewable energy such as wind and solar, along with coal and nuclear power.
“The president is an all-of-the above person and I am an all-of-the above person,” Moniz said.
Lawmakers from both parties appeared receptive to Moniz, who served as a DOE undersecretary in the Clinton administration. Moniz, 68, leads the MIT Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from BP, Chevron and other oil industry heavyweights for academic work aimed at reducing greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. He has advised Obama on numerous energy topics, including how to handle the country’s nuclear waste and the natural gas produced by the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing.