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With the race for the White House already at a fever pitch, it’s clear that candidates for the Democratic nomination are jockeying for the superlative of “Cares Most about the Environment.” And in doing so, there’s little doubt that every one of them will line up to take shots at natural gas, using thin logic in an attempt to paint this crucial fuel as a relic of the past in hopes of currying favor with the environmental lobby and its members.

It’s a tired political game, and it does no favors for either the voting public or the nation’s energy future.

The reality is that the United States is a few short months away from an energy breakthrough that, not long ago, would have seemed like fantasy to even the most optimistic of forecasters.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is on track to become a net energy exporter in 2020. This is a significant milestone — one that speaks volumes about the United States’ position in the global energy race, our ability to meet more of the nation’s energy demands with domestic supply, and the economic benefits that our burgeoning energy prowess entails.

Two factors are contributing to this newfound status as a net energy exporter. First, even against the backdrop of a booming economy, U.S. energy consumption is growing relatively slowly as production activities become more efficient. Second, and most important, we’re producing fossil fuels — especially natural gas — at a breakneck pace.

American natural gas production has been growing rapidly for the last decade, leading to a steady decline in imports. In 2018, 90% of the natural gas used in the United States was produced domestically. And as imports have declined, exports have increased — dramatically. That’s good news both for our allies and trading partners as well as for the American economy.

The bulk of overseas natural gas exports take the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Since 2016, the United States has exported domestic LNG to 35 countries, from Argentina and India to Japan and South Korea. Not only do these exports meet the demands of a market eager for American energy resources, they also enable us to support our allies by providing them with a reliable and affordable fuel supply.

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The economic effect of the domestic energy sector is no secret, with millions of Americans working in the oil and gas sectors. In Texas alone, the industry directly or indirectly supports about one in every six jobs. The expansion of natural gas production and rapid growth of LNG exports has added considerably to the economic effect of domestic production.

As the market for American LNG grows, developers are taking steps to build additional export capacity, creating a wealth of economic benefits in the process. The Driftwood, Calcasieu Pass and Lake Charles LNG projects in Louisiana as well as the Port Arthur project in Texas — just to name a few — represent billions of dollars in economic stimulus. This massive investment in modern infrastructure is not just making the United States more competitive globally, it’s also creating opportunity in the form of jobs, wages and local revenue.

LNG’s effect — and that of domestic natural gas production more broadly — isn’t all about dollars and cents, though. It’s also a more environmentally friendly, more sustainable fuel source, a fact the Democratic presidential candidates should take note of but likely won’t.

The United States and the world at large recognize the need to move toward a diversified energy future, and significant progress is being made in that regard, from wind and solar to more widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Even as those alternatives advance, though, it’s essential that a clean and efficient fuel source like natural gas be in place to reliably power our economy not just in the future, but today, as well.

Using American natural gas to meet demand at home brings environmental benefits that help us meet those goals. And exporting these resources abroad only adds to those positive impacts, helping our trading partners make the most of natural gas while reducing their dependence on dirtier fuels.

Natural gas has helped make the United States a net energy exporter and, in doing so, it’s helped to elevate our global standing, strengthen our economy and deliver environmental advantages along the way.

Our energy future is full of promise, and much of that potential runs on natural gas. The current crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls should take notice.

Craig Stevens is the spokesman for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, a national coalition focused on promoting key infrastructure investments. He wrote this for InsideSources.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.