The global economy is still struggling to overcome the effects of the recession sparked by the 2008 financial crisis. But energy — in particular, shale gas exploration — has become one of the strongest engines for the U.S. economy. U.S. natural gas production has increased by one-fourth in the past five years, according to the Energy Information Administration; it has created 600,000 jobs since 2009 and helped drive down gas prices for millions of Americans. Moreover, the United States is now in a position to export gas. This surplus creates opportunities for the United States to again be a geopolitical player in Europe.
While U.S. officials ponder their approach to Syria, the larger Middle East and Central Asia, they need look no farther than Central Europe and the “Visegrád Four” (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) to find some of the United States’ most passionate allies. Our countries’ commitment to the transatlantic relationship is unwavering. But we remain vulnerable to “energy diplomacy” because of our overwhelming reliance on Russian gas and oil. Nations in Central Europe import 50 to 100 percent of their gas from Russia. In comparison, Western Europe imports only 17 percent.
Our region has done much to modernize its inherited energy-transmission systems, which, until recently, reflected the Soviet era’s east-west supply routes. New pipeline connections and other technological improvements make the Central European energy infrastructure more flexible and more secure than it was even four years ago. Yet Gazprom’s monopolistic position in supplying most of our countries makes gas prices for millions in our region many times higher than in the United States.
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