If all proposed export terminals are built, the climate-warming emissions would be equivalent to 532 coal plants.
Fed by a glut of methane produced in the vast fracking fields of Texas and other states, the U.S. fossil fuel industry has become the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas thanks to five export terminals along the Gulf Coast and two on the Atlantic coast that are capable of liquifying a combined 14 billion cubic feet of fossil gas per day. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects 20 billion cubic feet to be exported daily by 2025 as more terminals begin operating on the Gulf Coast.
Fracked gas is liquified at extremely low temperatures and loaded on to massive ocean tankers bound for markets in Europe and Asia. Three additional LNG export terminals are under construction, and industry is pushing for a massive buildout of dozens of expansions, additional terminals and related LNG infrastructure in the Gulf South and Alaska.
Methane is a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide, and it leaks into the atmosphere during the lengthy process of producing, storing, transporting, liquefying and shipping fossil gas overseas, making the greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. LNG exports worse for the climate than burning coal, according to new research touted by McKibben and others.
“This is not a secondary fight — the scale of this is beyond belief,” McKibben said.
For years, the industry and allied politicians have framed “natural gas” as a “bridge fuel” that burns cleaner than coal and argued that increased fracking and exports would help other countries reduce climate-warming emissions. While this may have been true when the talking point was first deployed more than a decade ago, the fracking boom has since transformed the industry and the U.S. landscape. The claim that gas is cleaner than coal is not just outdated, it’s completely baseless when LNG exports are considered.
Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, studied the entire “lifecycle” of LNG and concludes in a paper released to journalists this week that U.S. exports of fracked gas produce between 24 percent and 274 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal. Howarth said he used relatively conservative but independent emissions estimates in his calculations, while federal regulators rely on data provided by fossil gas companies to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The Department of Energy has relied on EPA’s official numbers … those have been too low for a better part of the decade,” Howarth told reporters. “Hundreds of studies by independent scientists have found that industry self-reporting is just plain way too low.”
Source: Cornell University