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Cornyn calls for more U.S. energy exports

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The annual IHS Energy CERAWeek conference in Houston wrapped Friday with discussions on topics ranging from oil exports to America’s role in the Middle East and nanotechnolgoy.

This year’s conference, which started Monday and drew high-profile speakers including Ali Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia‘s oil minister, and a variety of CEOs, took on everything from oil prices and supply to wind power, included politicians and academics on its last day.

 Speaking during a session Friday on energy policy, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the United States must increase exports of oil and natural gas to allies in Asia and Europe, reducing the influence abroad of countries including Russia and Iran.
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“Countries like Russia are major suppliers to NATO countries. They can easily use their control of energy resources to hold our partners over a barrel,” the Republican majority whip from Texas said at the conference. “We can no longer keep energy policy in its own distinct silo. We have to understand energy security is intrinsically linked to our overall security.”

Those comments come as the United States has ended a decades-long ban on oil exports. Earlier this week, the first shipment of liquefied natural gas left Cheniere Energy‘s Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, bound for Brazil.

Now that sanctions against Iran have lifted, analysts are predicting up to 1 million barrels a day of new crude production will come onto the world market. Russia is the world’s second-largest natural gas supplier and the third largest oil supplier, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Wants rules eased

Cornyn said he wants to see the federal government ease regulations on oil and gas drilling. He cited a well under review at the Office of Management and Budget. The tightening of offshore drilling rules was a response to BP’s Deepwater Horizon accident.

“We’ve made some progress on this by lifting the crude export ban. We can offer our friends the option they’ve been asking for, to diversify their energy supply,” he said.

The Senate is considering a bill to update U.S. energy policy for the first time in years, including a provision expediting applications for liquefied natural gas permits. But the legislation has gotten caught up in the debate over what support the federal government should provide in Flint, Mich., where regulators have discovered widespread lead contamination in the city’s water system.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said at CERAWeek she is working with Democrats on legislation addressing aging water infrastructure around the country and hopes that will get the energy bill moving again.

“We hopefully have an agreement that will allow for a vote,” she said, adding that she hopes Senate will begin addressing the energy modernization bill as early as next week.

Both senators had strong words for Democrats including Hillary Clinton, who have expressed support for a moratorium on oil and gas drilling on federal lands to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“People turn on their lights and start their cars and don’t really known what goes into producing that,” Cornyn said. “The United States has been blessed with enormous natural resources, so the idea of keeping it in the ground is misguided.”

U.S. leadership

On another panel Friday, the head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the United States still has an important leadership role to play in the Middle East and across the globe.

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“I don’t meant to suggest that it’s the responsibility or even in the capacity of the United States to solve all the problems today of the Middle East,” said William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment. ” Many of them are fundamental and structural, and they’re going to play out for decades.”

“I don’t think we should be so fatalistic that we neglect some of the things that American leadership can help produce as well. And I think at this moment in the Middle East without that kind of American leadership, it’s very hard to see how at a minimum you’re able to prevent a very bad situation from getting worse.”

Progress on many of the issues will require careful coordination with allies and regional partners, Burns said. He stressed that the U.S. and allies needed a political and military solution to roll back the Islamic State, also called ISIS, though not necessarily American troops on the ground.

To ease regional tensions, he called for the U.S. to support traditional allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates while pushing back against destabilizing advances by Iran and others in the region. Burns described the Iranian nuclear deal as a first step to improving relations with the country.

What’s down the road

The last day of the conference also offered a glimpse of the technologies to come. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working with energy companies on cleaner solutions, from using the basic elements of charcoal to make better solar panels to turning waste carbon dioxide into valuable fuels.

The 9-year-old MIT Energy Initiative – or MITEI, pronounced like “mighty” – is focused on creating better solar power, cost-effective battery energy storage for electric grids, and new types of both biofuels and biochemicals, MIT professors said Friday during a panel discussion.

Jeffrey Grossman, MIT professor of materials science and engineering, sees potential in new materials.

“We can go nano,” he said, talking about materials design on the extraordinarily tiny level of nanotechnology.

He is focused on developing materials for more efficient solar panels and energy storage. For instance, current solar panels using silicon are inefficient because they don’t absorb the sun as well. Carbon is cheap and a much better absorbent, so he’s focused on using graphene – the base element of graphite and charcoal – for better and lighter solar cells.

Another project involves reverse engineering the combustion process to make fuels out of carbon dioxide, explained Yogesh Surendranath, MIT assistant professor of chemistry.

And Professor Yet-Ming Chiang is homing in on using cheap and abundant sulfur to make the next generation of lithium-sulfur batteries that could store energy from solar panels and release electricity onto power grids as needed.

The goal is to make battery storage economical for energy companies.


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