WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Energy Department pledged Tuesday to increase the use of natural gas as a way to combat climate change even as the nation seeks to boost domestic energy production.
Ernest Moniz, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said "a stunning increase" in production of domestic natural gas in recent years was nothing less than a "revolution" that has led to reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause global warming.
The natural gas boom also has led to a dramatic expansion of manufacturing and job creation, Moniz told the Senate Energy Committee.
Even so, Moniz stopped short of endorsing widespread exports of natural gas, saying he wanted to study the issue further.
A recent study commissioned by the Energy Department concluded that exporting natural gas would benefit the U.S. economy even if it led to higher domestic prices for the fuel.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate energy panel, called the DOE study flawed and said it relied on old data and unrealistic market assumptions.
Moniz said he is open to reviewing the study to ensure that officials have the best possible data before making any decisions.
"We certainly want to make sure that we are using data that is relevant to the decision at hand," he said.
Many U.S. energy companies are hoping to take advantage of the natural gas boom by exporting liquefied natural gas to Europe and Asia, where prices are far higher. Nearly two dozen applications have been filed to export liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to countries that do not have free-trade agreements with the United States.
Consumer advocates and some manufacturers that use natural gas as a raw material or fuel source oppose exports, which they say could drive up domestic prices and increase manufacturing costs. Many environmental groups also oppose LNG exports because of fears that increased drilling could lead to environmental problems.
Natural gas results in fewer carbon emissions than other fossil fuels such as coal or oil. But environmental groups worry that controversial drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could damage drinking water supplies or cause other problems.