15 November 2023
America’s increasing exports of liquefied natural gas pose a serious climate risk.
Solving the climate crisis would be much harder if everyone worked in good faith; Right now, a key branch of the federal government is knowingly using bad data to promote the most dangerous expansion of fossil fuels in the world.
Here’s the story. Last Tuesday, a group of elected officials led by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley joined environmental activists like me at a press conference to call for a halt to LNG exports based on new research findings on methane. This may seem too mysterious a topic to interest politicians, but in reality it could not be more important. Robert Howarth, a Cornell professor and dean of methane science, released a new paper last month showing that increasing U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas represent a serious climate threat. Between the carbon released by burning LNG, the methane that leaks along the way, and the energy it takes to ship it, they found that exported LNG is worse than burning coal – in many cases, twice as bad. Bad. This is huge news – and it builds on the fantastic work that frontline groups are doing across the Gulf, from Port Arthur to Lake Charles, documenting the damage these huge export terminals are causing.
You’d think this would interest the Department of Energy, which is in charge of granting export licenses for LNG plants – in fact it has seven licenses already underway, certifying that they were in the “public interest”. And were in the process of construction The US is the largest natural gas exporter on earth. But the industry has proposed 20 more of these huge terminals; If this succeeds, US natural gas exports will increase within a few years It will produce greenhouse gases similar to everything that happens in Europe-Every car and house and factory. This LNG expansion is the largest fossil fuel development plan on planet Earth. This matters more for our climate future than anything else.
But rather than immediately halting new approvals for export facilities or asking Haworth for more details, DOE issued a statement saying, “Both [a] Analysis in 2014 and 2019 concluded that the use of US LNG exports to generate electricity in European and Asian markets would not increase GHGs. [greenhouse gas] Emissions from a life cycle perspective, compared to consumption for regional coal extraction and electricity generation.
To translate: Don’t bother us with new facts; We like the old ones.
But this is what has been happening since 2014 (when even the old analysis showed that it was marginally better than coal).
1. We’ve got much more precise control over methane leaks, which is Haworth’s specialty. There are now hundreds of studies showing that gas flows out of the process at every turn, and when it does it traps heat with extraordinary efficiency; Their latest twist is to investigate the giant ships carrying this dangerous cargo.
2. We have seen a 90 percent decline in the price of renewable energy. Comparing gas to coal no longer makes sense: the proper comparison is to sun, wind and batteries, which now provide the cheapest electricity for most of the world.
3. We have seen the Earth’s temperature increasing. It is almost unbelievable that the DOE is sticking to its ancient science in 2023, a year when we have seen the highest temperatures at this plant in 125,000 years, with all the attendant destruction.
It is especially disappointing to see the DOE taking such an attitude, because elsewhere in its DC headquarters, officials are virtually presiding over radical change. They’re figuring out how to take the hundreds of billions of dollars provided for clean energy in the Inflation Reduction Act, and use it to start a revolution in everything from transportation to home heating. Renewable scientists and engineers are at the forefront of technology.
But on the other side of the DOE building, its staff is busy maintaining the status quo, which is highly profitable for the gas industry. For example, Exxon recently purchased the nation’s largest fracking company; It’s apparently doubling gas production, and counting on the federal government to help them out.
This dereliction of duty is not yet President Biden’s fault; He cannot be expected to micromanage every civil servant. But that will happen soon, because environmentalists across the country are finally joining with longtime Gulf Coast advocates to focus attention on this LNG export issue, and launching a massive campaign that’s spreading across social media. Will run from to the roads. For example, we know that the next proposed plant – a massive export terminal called CP2 planned for the Louisiana coast – will be associated with 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the Willow oil complex approved by the President earlier this year. That willowy endorsement cost the president a huge amount of credibility among young people; A TikTok campaign had collected millions of petition signatures, which he ignored.
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Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm cannot let the President fall into another political trap – especially when LNG exports are not only a climate disaster but also a potent source of inflation. As utilities have also made clear, keeping gas at home will lower prices for Americans who still depend on it; Polling has made it clear that people do not want to see America divided just to send gas abroad.
In fact, Granholm could set the president up for a major political victory. Thanks to the IRA, he can already take credit for doing more to advance the clean energy revolution than any other president. If he blocks new approval for LNG export licenses, he will be able to credibly say that he has done more to curb dirty energy than anyone who has been in the White House. Imagine the press conference where he’s joined by advocates from Louisiana and Texas who have been fighting for these projects for years. Biden rode into office riding on the backs of young people eager for action on climate and environmental justice; The scope of this proposed LNG buildout is so vast that if it comes to fruition, it could deliver a huge victory to those supporters. That could literally cut the fuse of the biggest climate bomb currently going on on planet Earth.
Or he can pretend we are back in the good old days of 2014 or 2019. But nostalgia feels especially bad for this president, at least when it comes to this most cutting-edge issue of all. There’s still time to seize the future instead.