In October, we wrote about the prospects for increasing international exports of natural gas, which is plentiful in the San Juan Basin.
We weren't optimistic at the time, but things have changed — dramatically.
Natural gas stocks are large — in part due to an oil boom made possible by technological advances that include hydraulic fracturing. Oil prices are relatively high, driving a drilling process that produces natural gas as a byproduct, which continues to add to the oversupply.
The supply glut drove down prices on a commodity that underpins the local economy creating a regional bust.
Our editorial addressed efforts to remove federal restrictions on the sale of domestically produced natural gas to other countries.
In 2012, two large U.S. corporations — Exxon/Mobil and Dow Chemical Co. — on opposite sides of that question spent a combined $23 million lobbying Congress and it appeared the decision would go to the highest bidder.
Then came Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Crimea.
In a Congress so constipated by partisan obstruction that it appears unable to deal with any of the nation's problems, this issue seems to resonate on both sides of the aisle.
A Wall Street Journal story published this week says Russian actions have given proponents of opening up overseas markets "new ammunition." We agree.
That's because Ukraine depends on Russia for natural gas, giving Putin indisputable leverage over the new government. Russia also exports natural gas to Europe, which has been reluctant to pursue serious sanctions because of such economic ties.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, who unsuccessfully tried to amend a Ukraine aid package to include language that would allow U.S. producers to sell natural gas to the country, was quoted in the Journal article.
Barrasso said he would call for a vote in the full Senate, and the Journal reports he may have an ally in Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat who "is pushing legislation that would similarly expand the number of countries that could receive U.S. natural gas."
Critics say it will take at least two years to build needed infrastructure. In the United States, companies will have to build costly plants to export gas and Ukraine and Europe need ports equipped to receive the gas. Significant exports aren't expected until the end of the decade.
Critics also say that exports would have a minimal impact on the Ukraine situation because natural gas is sold on the world market to the highest bidder.
Nonetheless, any additional natural gas supply will dilute Putin's energy dominance over Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Europe.
The American Petroleum Institute's Erik Milito said in the Journal article that even though significant natural gas exports are years away, "market signals are incredibly powerful — provided the market believes that we will do what we say we will do."
With Congress dithering away every opportunity to pass needed legislation, it could be hard to convince anyone that the "United" States has a united purpose.
It's time for Congress to move on this issue. With growing bipartisan support, there is no excuse for inaction.