Hungary gathered experts and diplomats from all over Central and Eastern Europe to Washington for an intense dialogue on transatlantic energy security and the prospects of US natural gas exports.

As part of the Hungarian V4 Presidency’s agenda to promote energy diversification and US LNG exports, Hungary co-hosted a two-day conference with the Atlantic Council (ACUS) titled “American Energy Prowess in a Strategic Foreign Policy Perspective”.

The conference discussed the strategic foreign policy aspects of the American shale gas revolution and its effect on the transatlantic relationship and the Central and Eastern European region. In his opening remarks, Atlantic Council Vice President Damon Wilson acknowledged the Hungarian V4 Presidency’s leadership in calling attention to the critical role of energy security in Central and Eastern European security.

Damon Wilson Vice President of the Atlantic Council

Opening the conference, Hungary’s Special Envoy for Energy, Dr. Anita Orbán stressed that “energy supply security and the price of energy has become one of the most important components of today’s crisis in Ukraine and one side is obviously using energy as a weapon in this conflict.” Pointing to the Visegrad countries (CZ, HU, PL, SK) she said that “as neighboring countries of Ukraine we are the first ones within the European Union to be affected by any potential supply disruption and at the same time we are the ones who can offer meaningful alternatives to Ukraine via the reverse flow capabilities.” 

Hungarian Special Envoy for Energy Anita Orbán

The two day conference brought together leaders from the US government, Central and Eastern Europe, and the energy industry to determine ways to strengthen European energy security and the transatlantic alliance through reinforced energy ties. Watch the full video coverage of the conference: 

Amos Hochstein, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Diplomacy said that while US LNG export is not a magic bullet, “it is an important component of US energy diplomacy”. Mladen Antunovic, Managing Director of LNG Croatia Ltd. expressed hope in more export licenses being approved in the US so that Croatia could become a gateway for European LNG for landlocked countries. Albert Nahas, Vice President, International Government Affairs, Cheniere Energy said that “every reliable study proved that there would be no significant effect on US consumers.” He also remarked that if you look around the world, it was leaders like Castro and Stalin who promoted export restrictions, the questions is “are they the ones to follow?”

 David Korányi of the ACUS, Amos Hochstein of the State Department, Coral Davenport of the New York Times, Szabolcs I. Ferencz of MOL Group, Brenda Shaffer of Georgetown

David Montgomery, Senior Vice President, NERA Economic Consulting reiterated that “the more natural gas the US exported the greater the benefits would be to the US economy.” He said that the argument that manufacturing would suffer “is just being disingenuous.” Marik String, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council who previously worked on the Hill as Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer, acknowledged that “the whole debate has been completely transformed by steady delegations from Europe.” He pointed to the fact that the US has used the exact same arguments in a recently decided WTO case against China as the proponents of LNG export liberalization use now, so if the US wants to be consistent, it should remove current restrictions on LNG exports.

Amy Harder of the WSJ Mladen Antunovic of LNG Croatia Edward Chow of CSIS David Montgomery of NERA Consulting Albert G. Nahas of Cheniere Marik String of the ACUS

Edward Chow, Senior Fellow, Energy and National Security Program, CSIS said that “There is a good argument to be made that here should not be any restrictions on exports at all.” Energy Ambassadors Vaclav Bartuska (Czech Republic) Pavol Hamzik (Slovak Republic) and Lachezar Matev (Bulgaria) all agreed that while US LNG is not a quick fix for the region’s energy security, it would certainly contribute to Central and Eastern Europe’s efforts to diversify their energy imports.

Hungarian Ambassador György Szapáry hosted a dinner for the speakers of the conference where US and Central European experts and diplomats could engage with key US decision makers in a more informal matter. The dinner which included a discussion moderated by Keith Johnson of Foreign Policy Magazine focused on how energy supply security advances common transatlantic geopolitical goals.

Ambassador Szapáry addressing the dinner audience

The Congressional component of the conference included remarks by Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton (R-MI) who reiterated his commitment to make US LNG exports a bipartisan issue in an “effort to send a clear signal to our friends and Russians who almost doubled the price to our friends in Central and Eastern Europe. It's time for us to send a message back.”

Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton

Congressman Mike Turner (R-OH) who worked tirelessly to promote the geopolitical benefits of US LNG exports for years said that the current LNG legislation “is an example where Congress, working with international partners is making a difference.”

Congressman Michael Turner (R-OH) Chairman of the US Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Congressman Cory Gardner (R-CO) co-sponsor of H.R.6, which would amend the Natural Gas Act to expedite the approval of LNG export licenses, said that opposing this effort is “like hanging up on a 911 call”. 

Congressman Cory Gardner (R-CO)

Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), co-chair of the bipartisan LNG Working Group said the opportunities of natural gas explorations and exports are significant. “We have an opportunity with natural gas to achieve real energy independence.”

Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) Co-Chair of the LNG Working Group

Speakers of the ensuing panel highlighted the consequences of non-action. Neil Brown, Senior Fellow, German Marshall Fund said that “if we don't Act now it will be extremely damaging.” Mihnea Constantinescu, Romania’s special envoy for energy emphasized that US natural gas appearing on the European market  would not only help the countries who are directly receiving it but through the existing interconnectors and reverse flows,  it would also help Ukraine and Moldova which are heavily dependent on Russian gas. Latvia’s  Minister of Economy, Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis  said “the energy relationship is the most sensitive one.  If the trust is undermined, we all start looking for alternatives.”  

Neil Brown, Vaclav Bartuska, Mihnea Constantinescu, Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis, Mariusz-Orion Jędrysek and Anita Orbán on the importance of energy diversification

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) co-chair of the LNG Working Group, who concluded the conference, remarked that “As a former Air Force officer who once served with NATO Commander Breedlove and consider him a good friend, I know that we need to use every tool in our tool box to address the situation in Russia and with LNG exports we are simply leaving a big leverage point off the table.”

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-OH) co-chair of the LNG Working Group

The Embassy is grateful for the enthusiastic support of Damon Wilson and David Korányi of the Atlantic Council for all their work in helping to bring together key stakeholders for the two-day dialogue.

On the margins of the conference. Hungarian Special Envoy for Energy, Dr. Anita Orbán also met with Congressional leaders including Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) who has taken the lead on LNG exports and promised continued engagement on the issue. She also met with Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) who pledged his support on natural gas exports.

Dr. Anita Orbán, Congressman Cuellar and Anna Smith Lacey

Dr. Orbán was also asked to submit a written testimony to the Subcommittee on Energy Policy of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee for its April 30 hearing “Examining the Effect of LNG Exports on US Foreign Policy”. Among others, Dr. Orbán highlighted that   “US LNG export liberalization will have an immediate price impact in Central Eastern Europe”  and “the prospect of a credible alternative in the foreseeable future would act as a force bringing prices down.” She also argued that  “while Central Eastern Europe has been building up the infrastructure, it is the United States which can provide the gas volumes to the market. LNG export liberalization is an elegant, yet very effective tool, which is relatively cheap to use.” Click here to read her written testimony. Watch the hearing here: 

On the heels of the conference, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a staff  briefing on “Energy Security in Central and South Eastern Europe” where the energy special envoys of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia talked about energy diversification how US LNG exports could change the current energy market in Central and Eastern Europe.

Dr Anita Orbán at the Senate briefing hosred by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee

The special envoys met with Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) who has been an outspoken supporter of natural gas exports and held her first hearing as chairman on this very issue. 

Energy Ambassadors of Slovakia Hungary Bulgaria and Romania with Chairman Landrieu

Click here to see the photo gallery of the events.