Byline: Sen. Richard G. Lugar, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Deep winter is approaching in Eastern and Central Europe and the Caucasus, bringing with it the prospect of icy days and frigid nights. For our friends and allies in the region, it also brings a chilly reminder of their chronic overdependence for heat and power on natural gas from Russia, which has demonstrated a penchant for using energy as a weapon against its neighbors.
The good news is that recent trends have turned in favor of our NATO allies and other friends to break Russia's energy dominance. The United States can capitalize on these trends by using our newfound abundance of natural gas and pursuing smart, committed diplomacy in the region to help many nations diversify their energy imports.
Most countries in the eastern sector of the European Union - nearly all of them NATO members - as well as EU aspirants Ukraine and Moldova, are heavily dependent on Russian gas. In the past, Moscow has shown itself quick to use energy as a club to punish and coerce its neighbors - but the Russians overplayed their hand.
After too many threats and actual cutoffs by the Kremlin, the European Commission is going after the giant Russian state gas monopoly, Gazprom, for anti-competitive behavior and price-gouging. At the same time, European countries are turning to the Middle East for new, cheaper supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which had been intended for the United States before our own shale gas revolution turned us from a nascent importer to a potential exporter. This has helped strengthen the Europeans' bargaining position with Russia.
These trends may not last, but they have opened a window for the United States, with our European allies, to advance broad natural gas diversification. The United States should move quickly to seize this opportunity.
As a first step, we should allow exports of U.S. natural gas, now abundant thanks to shale gas, to all our NATO allies. The United States has surpassed Russia as the world's largest natural gas producer. At current consumption rates, we have an estimated 100-year supply, and prices have fallen so low that new drilling activity is drying up. We easily could export some of this surplus as LNG without causing consumer gas prices to spike here at home. I have drafted the LNG for NATO Act, which would …