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US hopes to reduce EU gas dependence on Russia

The U.S. hopes, by including energy in a trade agreement, to reduce European dependence on Russian gas just as relations between Russia and the West are more fraught than since the days of the Cold War.  The U.S. does not want to leave the EU out in the cold when it might face an energy crisis as tensions with Russia rise over Ukraine. Russia stands accused of arming separatists and sending its own soldiers across Ukraine's eastern border, to the consternation of EU officials.The possibility exists that Russia might use energy as a tool to pressure Europe to back off -- as it has used energy before, against Ukraine. In a 2009 pricing dispute, the Russian natural gas company Gazprom cut off gas to Ukraine. Soon all Russian gas flows through Ukraine were halted for two weeks, completely cutting off supplies to Southeastern Europe and partially cutting off flows to other European countries.
According to Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, Russia is the EU's main supplier of natural gas.
"There are many geopolitical reasons for the U.S. to help wean Europe off its addiction to Russian oil and gas," said Garrett Workman, an expert at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank. "Energy will undoubtedly be included in the negotiations."
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a proposed free trade agreement between the U.S and EU to enhance economic cooperation. Negotiations are expected to last for years. 
"Europe is well aware of its need to diversify its energy portfolio, and the U.S. has a new and growing source of energy thanks to the shale gas revolution," Workman said.
The shale revolution has decreased the U.S.' dependence on foreign energy sources, and has made it, according to the CIA World Factbook, the world's largest gas producer, giving it a major competitive advantage in world energy markets.
The U.S. produced more than 290 billion cubic meters (10,371 billion cubic feet) of shale gas in 2012 -- eight times its production in 2007.
The U.S. is producing more gas than it consumes. And exporting gas would not only benefit its economy but also give it the opportunity to use energy as a geopolitical tool. This is especially true as Europe is in dire need of reducing its dependency on Russia.
"Energy included in the Transatlantic Trade talks would strengthen the U.S. political and economic presence in Europe," said Arunas Molis, an associate professor at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania.
"This would help Europe to diversify natural gas imports better against the dependency on a single supplier," he said.
While the volume and price of future U.S. gas exports to Europe remain unknown, just the inclusion of energy in the trade negotiations would show unity between the powers on each side of the Atlantic.
"Even if the EU is not initially a highly profitable market for the U.S. shale gas exports, it’s important that the U.S. exports a certain amount of LNG anyway to show transatlantic solidarity," Workman said, referring to liquified natural gas by its initials.
Yet, major obstacles remain for the U.S. It lacks liquefied natural gas terminals to convert gas to liquid form -- greatly reducing its volume -- and export it by sea.
At the moment, the Kenai liquified natural gas terminal near Anchorage, Alaska, is the country's only operating gas export terminal.
The Sabine Pass liquid natural gas terminal on the border of Texas and Louisiana is projected to begin exporting by the end of 2015. And in May, the U.S. Department of Energy approved plans for export terminals in Warrenton, Oregon, and Freeport, Texas.
"It will certainly take a number of years for the infrastructure to be ready for the U.S. to export its gas across the Atlantic," said Workman, "But demonstrating a resolve and credible intent to do so will send a powerful message to Moscow."

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