The Simmering Climate Battle Over Natural-Gas Exports

A fight is brewing over whether Energy Department regulators should weigh the impact of liquefied natural gas on global warming.

A liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker arrives at a gas storage station at Sodegaura city in Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo on April 6, 2009 for the first shipment of LNG from Sakhalin-2 natural gas development project in Sakhalin, Russia. AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
Ben Geman
July 30, 2014, 2:42 p.m.

A fight is brew­ing over wheth­er En­ergy De­part­ment reg­u­lat­ors should weigh the im­pact of li­que­fied nat­ur­al gas on cli­mate change be­fore grant­ing com­pan­ies per­mis­sion to ship the product abroad.

The du­el­ing pres­sures on the de­part­ment from in­dustry of­fi­cials and green groups are part of a wider dis­pute over wheth­er nat­ur­al gas is a friend or en­emy in battles against glob­al warm­ing.

Nat­ur­al gas emits far less car­bon di­ox­ide than coal when burned to cre­ate elec­tri­city. But leaks of the po­tent green­house gas meth­ane along the pro­duc­tion, pro­cessing, and trans­it chain eat in­to that ad­vant­age — and how much is a mat­ter of fierce dis­pute.

Right now, part of the battle over gas and cli­mate is play­ing out in pub­lic com­ments on an En­ergy De­part­ment re­port about ex­ports of li­que­fied nat­ur­al gas.

“LNG ex­ports will in­duce in­creases in U.S. gas pro­duc­tion and as­so­ci­ated emis­sions, and LNG ex­ports will dis­place in­vest­ments in re­new­able en­ergy and ef­fi­ciency in im­port­ing mar­kets,” state the Si­erra Club and sev­er­al oth­er groups in a let­ter this month to the de­part­ment.

In late May, the En­ergy De­part­ment re­leased a draft re­port on the range of “li­fe­cycle” green­house-gas emis­sions of hy­po­thet­ic­al gas ex­ports to Europe and Asia. It ex­plores the com­bined emis­sions from pro­du­cing, mov­ing, cool­ing, and ship­ping U.S. gas, then burn­ing it abroad to cre­ate elec­tri­city.

The draft study, while packed with un­cer­tain­ties and caveats, showed that these “li­fe­cycle” emis­sions were gen­er­ally a good deal lower than us­ing coal mined in those re­gions, and bet­ter than or at least on par with Rus­si­an gas sent via pipeline.

But al­though the re­port con­tained good news for ex­port ad­voc­ates, in­dustry of­fi­cials are non­ethe­less press­ing the de­part­ment not to factor the re­view of these emis­sions in­to its de­cisions on gas-ex­port ap­plic­a­tions that are piled up be­fore reg­u­lat­ors.

An in­dustry group called the Cen­ter for Li­que­fied Nat­ur­al Gas, in re­cent com­ments on the re­port, ar­gues that weigh­ing the study would run afoul of reg­u­la­tions that gov­ern the Na­tion­al En­vir­on­ment­al Policy Act re­view pro­cess.

The in­dustry group also ar­gues that the li­fe­cycle emis­sions re­view has no place in DOE de­cisions about wheth­er ap­plic­a­tions are in the “pub­lic in­terest” and there­fore should be ap­proved.

If the ana­lys­is is weighed in those re­views, “DOE could ac­com­plish en­vir­on­ment­al goals through its own ana­lys­is what it can­not do through the NEPA pro­cess,” such as con­sider en­vir­on­ment­al con­di­tions in oth­er na­tions, the cen­ter says in com­ments sub­mit­ted last week.

“[S]uch a use out­side the NEPA pro­cess could lead to in­con­sist­ent con­clu­sions on the en­vir­on­ment­al re­view … and sub­ject the pub­lic in­terest de­term­in­a­tion by DOE to un­ne­ces­sary leg­al chal­lenges by those op­pos­ing the ap­plic­a­tions for any per­ceived de­fi­cien­cies in DOE’s con­sid­er­a­tion of en­vir­on­ment­al factors,” the group said.

Sim­il­arly, the big en­ergy com­pany Domin­ion doesn’t want li­fe­cycle emis­sions to pay a big role in DOE re­views. The com­pany, which is seek­ing fi­nal clear­ances to move ahead with a mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar li­que­fied nat­ur­al-gas pro­ject in Mary­land, ap­plauded the study as “fa­vor­able” to ex­ports, but also notes: “This type of life cycle GHG ana­lys­is is in no way re­quired as part of the en­vir­on­ment­al re­view of LNG ex­ports.”

The com­pany said DOE’s ap­prov­al of ex­port ap­plic­a­tions doesn’t have a clear link to the sum of green­house-gas emis­sions from nat­ur­al-gas de­vel­op­ment and use.

“In no sense can DOE’s au­thor­iz­a­tion of LNG ex­ports be con­sidered the cause of [green­house-gas] emis­sions ran­ging all the way from the well-head (wherever that may be for par­tic­u­lar feed gas) to the burn­er-tip (wherever the ex­por­ted LNG may be burned after re­gas­i­fic­a­tion un­der whatever reg­u­lat­ory rules may ap­ply in that coun­try),” the com­pany said.

The draft En­ergy De­part­ment study looks at the so-called glob­al-warm­ing po­ten­tial of us­ing ex­por­ted U.S. gas in Asia and Europe over 20-year and 100-year ho­ri­zons. The lat­ter time­frame is friend­li­er to gas, be­cause while meth­ane emis­sions pack a wal­lop, they are re­l­at­ively short-lived in the at­mo­sphere.

The study showed that us­ing a 100-year ho­ri­zon, ex­por­ted gas is eas­ily more friendly to the cli­mate than us­ing re­gion­ally sourced coal in China and Europe. But the ad­vant­age shrinks some­what us­ing the 20-year ho­ri­zon. And the high end of the es­tim­ated cli­mate dam­age from us­ing im­por­ted U.S. gas in China is even slightly worse than the low end of the range of es­tim­ates from us­ing coal there.

Over­all, the re­port states: “This ana­lys­is has de­term­ined that the use of U.S. [li­que­fied nat­ur­al gas] ex­ports for power pro­duc­tion in European and Asi­an mar­kets will not in­crease [green­house-gas] emis­sions, on a li­fe­cycle per­spect­ive, when com­pared to re­gion­al coal ex­trac­tion and con­sump­tion for power pro­duc­tion.”

But sev­er­al en­vir­on­ment­al groups, in com­ments on the study, say the ana­lys­is greatly un­der­es­tim­ates the cli­mate im­pact of U.S. gas. They ar­gue that the 1.6 per­cent es­tim­ated meth­ane leak­age rate for U.S. nat­ur­al-gas de­vel­op­ment that DOE used is too con­ser­vat­ive, and cite stud­ies that have con­cluded it may be twice that high or worse.

Ju­ly 21 com­ments to DOE from the Si­erra Club, the Ches­apeake Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work, Earthjustice, and oth­er groups also ar­gue that DOE should not just com­pare ex­por­ted U.S. gas to oth­er fossil fuels when com­par­ing li­fe­cycle emis­sions.

“End-use mar­kets in Europe and Asia are rap­idly in­vest­ing in clean-en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture like wind, sol­ar, and ef­fi­ciency. U.S. LNG ex­ports would likely dis­place these en­ergy in­vest­ments in ad­di­tion to, or in­stead of, dis­pla­cing use of oth­er fossil fuels,” it states.

While act­iv­ists be­lieve the re­port un­der­plays dam­age to the cli­mate from nat­ur­al-gas ex­ports, they do say that cli­mate change should be front and cen­ter in DOE’s de­cisions about ex­port ap­plic­a­tions.

“We will con­tin­ue to do everything we can to raise our voice on this is­sue, edu­cate the coun­try on the cli­mate real­ity of [li­que­fied nat­ur­al gas] ex­ports and seek leg­al re­course and path­ways as avail­able,” said Mike Tid­well, dir­ect­or of the Ches­apeake Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work.

The En­ergy De­part­ment has pre­vi­ously giv­en one fi­nal and six pre­lim­in­ary ap­provals to ap­plic­a­tions to ex­port gas to na­tions that don’t have a form­al free-trade deal with the U.S. But roughly two-dozen more of these ap­plic­a­tions, which are sub­ject to care­ful scru­tiny, are be­fore reg­u­lat­ors.

DOE said in re­leas­ing the draft re­port that the study would be in­cluded in com­pan­ies’ ap­plic­a­tion dock­ets to help “in­form” its de­cisions, but did not provide spe­cif­ics.

“The de­part­ment eval­u­ates each ap­plic­a­tion and is­sues a pub­lic-in­terest de­term­in­a­tion based on a num­ber of dif­fer­ent factors, in­clud­ing do­mest­ic en­ergy se­cur­ity, eco­nom­ic im­pacts, in­ter­na­tion­al con­sid­er­a­tions, and en­vir­on­ment­al factors such as green­house-gas emis­sions,” a spokes­per­son said.

What We're Following See More »
PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED
Trump Not on Ballot in Minnesota
14 minutes ago
THE LATEST
MIGHT STILL ACCEPT FOREIGN AND CORPORATE MONEY
Chelsea to Stay on Board of Clinton Foundation
37 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Is the Clinton family backtracking on some of its promises to insulate the White House from the Clinton Foundation? Opposition researchers will certainly try to portray it that way. A foundation spokesman said yesterday that Chelsea Clinton will stay on its board, and that the "foundation’s largest project, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, might continue to accept foreign government and corporate funding."

Source:
INTERCEPT IN MIDDLE EAST
Navy Calls Iranian Ships’ Actions Dangerous, Unprofessional
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Four Iranian ships made reckless maneuvers close to a U.S. warship this week, the Pentagon said Thursday, in an incident that officials said could have led to dangerous escalation." The four Iranian vessels engaged in a "high-speed intercept" of a U.S. destroyer in the Strait of Hormuz. A Navy spokesman said the Iranina actions "created a dangerous, harassing situation that could have led to further escalation including additional defensive measures" by the destroyer.

Source:
$300 SAVINGS CARD
Under Pressure, EpiPen Maker Drops Prices
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Amid public outcry and the threat of investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mylan has agreed to effectively drop the price of EpiPens. "The company, which did not lower the drug's list price, said it would reduce the patient cost of EpiPen through the use of a savings card, which will cover up to $300 of EpiPen 2-Pak."

Source:
AN ENGLISHMAN IN MISSISSIPPI
Nigel Farage: Trump Can Beat Polls
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Nigel Farage, who led the Brexit effort in the United Kingdom, appeared at a Trump rally in Mississippi yesterday. Farage told the 15,000-strong crowd: "Remember, anything is possible if enough decent people are prepared to stand up against the establishment."

Source:
×