WASHINGTON— Sens. Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski advocated different approaches to regulation of natural gas production Wednesday, but promised to find “common ground” as leading members of the Energy and Resources Committee.
Wyden, D-Ore., and Murkowski, R-Alaska, talked about the nation’s energy future, including the need to find a “sweet spot” in pricing that promotes both exports and domestic natural gas sales.
Wyden, chairman of the committee, said he believes there is a possibility to find equilibrium because of a recent increase in America’s natural gas production. With proper regulations on the controversial drilling technique known as fracking, natural gas could be an important part of battling climate change, he said.
“There may now be a ‘sweet spot’ on natural gas where, for example, you can have some level of exports but not so many as to drive up the price of natural gas,” he said. “And where you could begin to have a thoughtful transition to where we would have more renewables.”
During the question portion of the discussion, former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston warned against overregulation on natural gas, which he said had previously prevented economic growth. The former energy committee chairman now works as an advisor for the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington.
“I strongly endorse the idea of a ‘sweet spot,’” Johnston, a Democrat, said. “My caveat is, as you try to control supply and price … it is impossible to predict what supply and demand will be. I simply urge you to look at the experience we have had.”
Murkowski emphasized the need for states to control regulations, including those that prevent pollution from seeping into water supplies during natural gas drilling.
“There’s nobody better situated than the people in the states to make sure [their] water is safe,” she said. “Making sure the states are able to craft this regulation and having federal minimum standards is important.”
Murkowski said these new developments in natural gas production are shifting America away from the need for foreign energy.
“We are in a new day when we are talking about the issue of energy in this country,” Murkowski said. “As a nation, we are able to imagine the day that through what we have in our natural resources … energy independence is no longer just a slogan.”
Wyden said he sees opportunity for cooperation in the debate over natural gas production.
“On some of the most difficult issues, there’s a lot more common ground than you would think if you read some of the headlines,” Wyden said.
Murkowski also called for a bipartisan approach during the discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She and Wyden sat together at the State of the Union address Tuesday night and met for breakfast before carpooling to Wednesday’s forum.
“Spending a lot of time with your colleagues to work through difficult issues is what this Congress needs to do,” Murkowski said. “Doing it on your own is not going to yield us the kind of policies that are important for this county.”