Plan to Export Nat. Gas Stirs up Critics

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"Consumers and producers debate over prices, U.S. energy dependence."

U.S. natural-gas supplies have surged dramatically, giving the country a chance to move toward greater energy independence, gas proponents say.

But plans are brewing to start selling some of that gas overseas. Critics say that move would most likely boost gas prices, hurting homeowners who rely on the fuel for heating.

Higher prices also would be felt by the many industries that rely heavily on gas, and by utilities that use gas to generate electricity.

Other critics say it would be a shame to squander the chance to decrease reliance on foreign energy.

The U.S. natural-gas outlook has shifted radically in just five years. In 2006, U.S. gas fields were in decline, and the Energy Information Administration expected the U.S. to have to import gas from other countries. But now, the U.S. could have enough to meet its current gas demand for over 100 years.

Ample gas supplies also have pushed prices down. U.S. consumers pay half the going wholesale rate in many other developed countries. But that has made producers consider exporting natural gas to get the higher prices.

A Houston company, Chenier Energy Partners, recently agreed to provide natural gas to Gas Natural Fenosa, the largest gas and electric company in Spain and Latin America. The exports could begin in 2015.

That plan faces some backlash.

The Industrial Energy Consumers of America, with members such as Goodyear and other large companies, has come out against exports.

The American Public Gas Association, which represents municipal-owned natural-gas utilities, is concerned.

"We need to ensure that there are adequate levels of supply to meet our growing demand while keeping prices at a long-term affordable level," said Dave Schryver, executive vice president of the group.

Regardless of exports, U.S. demand for gas seems certain to rise.

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