National Affairs and Legislation Committee
Vice Chair Energy Sources
“Why We Should Worry About LNG”
As the US begins to produce more shale gas from fracking, the possibility of selling it to markets abroad at a higher profit is creating new dilemmas for environmentalists. Not only is the liquefaction process a potentially hazardous one, but the opening up of export markets will create a more demand for fracked gas with increased environmental impact. The current geopolitical situation, particularly the crisis in the Ukraine, has lead to calls for relaxed export restrictions, but quickly supplying our allies with additional gas is not all that realistic. Few companies have even taken the first step toward Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval, but existing terminals that are already approved for import could be fast tracked and modified for export.
What is LNG?
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is natural gas, predominately methane, that has been cooled to about -260 degrees F and converted to liquid form for ease of storage or transport. To get the fuel to the consumer, it must be processed to remove water and impurities at a liquefaction plant, and then shipped in specially constructed double- hulled tanker ships that keep it at boiling point by auto refrigeration.
While industry experts tout LNG as a clean fuel, this is disingenuous, primarily because the gas currently being proposed for export is higher emission fuel obtained by fracking. Among industrial sources of methane, (86 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2), natural gas systems lead the way with 23% of the total – more than double the contribution of the coal- mining sector . As the shale boom continues, those emissions are only expected to increase. Methane equivalent to 127 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution was emitted from production, processing, transmission, storage, and distribution of natural gas. In addition, a recent study published in the journal Science found that the EPA may be underestimating methane leakage rates from oil and natural gas production and distribution by 25% to 75%.
“Questions focus on the local environmental impact and the cumulative emissions of developing shale gas, along with pipeline and shipping infrastructure to liquefy natural gas and ship it overseas.” Not to mention the potential for catastrophic explosions and terrorism. “In the 2004 study by Sandia National Laboratories, the resulting report … estimated that an intentional attack on an LNG tanker would result in a vapor cloud of explosive gas spread over a radius of almost 2 miles from the ship. Any source of ignition within that vapor cloud would instantly cause an explosion of devastating proportion and horrific effect.”
FERC has approved terminals in Texas, Florida, and the Gulf of Mexico. Proposed terminals include Sabine Pass in Louisiana; FERC concluded that its approval of this project would not constitute a major federal action significantly impacting the quality of the human environment. Further proposed projects include ones in Texas, Coos Bay and Astoria, Oregon, Elba Island, Georgia and the controversial Cove Point Project on the Chesapeake Bay. The Cove Point project would add a liquefaction facility and 161 miles of pipelines to an existing terminal, which is close to a residential and environmentally sensitive area in Lusby MD. Several other projects are being fast tracked for approval because there are at existing LNG terminals, such as the Conoco Phillips Alaska LNG export facility on the Kenai Peninsula, where they plan to ship fuel to Asian markets this spring. The Energy Department granted ConocoPhillips permission to export natural gas to non-free-trade-agreement nations; in the past, they were permitted to export only to free trade countries.
‘‘Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act’’, HR6, would automatically approve LNG exports to World Trade Organization Members. Those proposals currently require “public interest” reviews by the Energy Department. Sen. Mark Udall (D, CO) is pushing through the Senate S.2083: American Job Creation and Strategic Alliances LNG Act. Many Democrats on a House Ways and Means subcommittee said DOE is moving fast enough to approve exports and no laws need to be changed to spur LNG shipments. They also asked why the United States shouldn’t use its newfound glut of natural gas as a powerful trade tool instead of accelerating international sales.
The latest IACP Climate Change Report recommends focus on various alternative and clean energy sources; adding to pollution through increasing use of fossil fuels will not support the goal of reducing warming to 2 Degrees C. In addition, the potential environmental impacts of construction of liquefaction plants and pipelines plus the danger of catastrophic explosions caused by locating these projects in populated areas is a risk that should not be undertaken lightly.
i EE News April 14, 2014
ii Killsek, Roman, “FERC Approval Could Become Regulatory Black Hole for Some Proposed US LNG Export Projects, the energy collective, April 29,2014
iii Husick, Lawrence, “Planning a Sea-Borne Terrorist Attack”, FPRI March, 2005
iv Hobson, Margaret Kritz, “Historic Moment for Alaskans, as Legislature OK’s a massive pipeline project”, EE News, April 22,2014
v Northey, Hannah, “Could Democrats concerns stymie export push?” EE news April 10, 2014.