Rapid expansion of US LNG comes with climate costs: environmental group
The likelihood that more US liquified natural gas projects will be built because of the war in Ukraine should prompt US regulators to pay closer attention to the potential climate impacts, according to a report from an environmental advocacy group.
The June 9 report from the Environmental Integrity Project underscored the concerns among some environmental groups that regulators will overlook the environmental impacts of LNG as the White House faces pressure from industry groups and their allies to speed permitting to relieve high natural gas prices abroad and an energy crisis in Europe. The report, “Playing with Fire: The Climate Impact of the Rapid Growth of LNG,” also said a “dramatic increase in global reliance on LNG” could undermine efforts to mitigate climate change, raising concerns similar to those of other environmental groups and LNG project opponents.
“Although there is pressure to hurry up approvals of these LNG projects, government regulators should be careful and thoughtful in considering their significant environmental impacts,” report co-author Alexandra Shaykevich said in a statement. “A dramatic increase in global dependence on LNG could be risky, from a climate perspective.”
Anticipated US LNG buildout
From the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 through June 5, US developers secured at least 19 supply deals totaling almost 24 million metric tons of LNG per year, the report said. The flurry of activity has boosted expectations that the US is on the cusp of the next supercycle of LNG project development.
Gas experts have made a case that Europe’s shift from Russian gas to other gas supplies stands to be a net climate benefit because of the greater emissions profile associated with Russian gas. Europe’s plan to pivot from Russian gas imports, which totaled about 155 billion cubic meters in 2021, also entails a commitment to reduce overall gas consumption. But the US LNG sector will remain under significant pressure to curb emissions, especially of methane, as the industry looks to maintain its long-term competitiveness.
The report criticized some LNG companies’ proposals to pursue carbon capture and sequestration projects, calling them “untested” and “unlikely to make a significant difference” in mitigating their contributions to climate change.
The Environmental Integrity Project said building or expanding a proposed 25 LNG terminals in the US could produce more than 90 million mt of greenhouse gas emissions per year, basing its estimate on a review of state regulatory permits. Market constraints such as limited global demand make it unlikely that every proposed project in the US would get built. The environmental group estimated that greenhouse gas emissions from LNG export facilities in 2021 were about 18 million mt. The estimates did not include upstream or downstream emissions, the report said.
“Government agencies now proposing to speed up environmental approvals for LNG should slow down and keep a close watch on the pollution caused by the industry, including whether these LNG plants comply with the emission limits in their federal Clean Air Act permits,” the Environmental Integrity Project said.
In a separate commentary, researchers from the University of Texas and the Colorado School of Mines said in a paper that reducing methane emissions from the LNG supply chain could help the EU advance its climate policy goals and diversify its LNG supply. The authors of the paper, published in the journal Nature in May, cited EU proposals focused on target-based approaches to reducing methane through monitoring, record-keeping and verification programs as well as the US Environmental Protection Agency proposing tougher rules for emissions from new and existing oil and gas facilities. Credible carbon and methane accounting frameworks would be critical to the effectiveness of target-based approaches to reducing emissions, the authors said.
“Ensuring that developed and developing economies are supported throughout the invasion and its aftermath will require close attention,” the researchers wrote. “That this must be accomplished against a background of increasing urgency of climate action underscores the importance of developing integrated policies that reduce emissions while improving global energy security and resilience.”