A boat carrying liquefied natural gas, or LNG
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Is LNG better?

What Is Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), and Why Should I Care About It?

Kailey Luzbetak
/
December 15, 2023

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has emerged as a formidable player in the global energy landscape, heralded by some as a cleaner alternative to coal. LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to -260°F (-162°C), transforming it into a liquid for easier transportation and storage. If this all sounds a bit technical and confusing, the important thing to know is that LNG is simply natural gas in its liquid form – just like the name states.

The United States is one of many countries leaning into a “clean” narrative about LNG, and the Biden Administration has significantly expanded LNG domestically by building more export terminals. LNG is not only framed as less harmful to the climate than coal, supporters and those in the industry argue that the energy source is a better option than oil, too. As a result, the U.S. became the leading LNG-exporting country earlier this year, and with the expansion of facilities along the Gulf Coast, it is highly likely that exports will only continue to grow.

With the administration’s approval of projects like the Willow oil complex in Alaska and potential endorsement of CP2 in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, it seems that at the federal level, the U.S. is planning to double down on LNG. There are currently eight existing LNG export terminals, double the number that there were just four years ago. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved over one dozen more, meaning LNG exports could double again in just a few more years.

However, many experts are skeptical of the claim that LNG is a green energy solution, pointing out its hidden dangers why its expansion poses a grave threat to the climate. The emissions from CP2 in Louisiana alone would be 20 times higher than the controversial Willow project, which attracted significant negative press from conservationists and climate advocates.

Here, we will explore the growing significance of LNG, its potential climate and community impact, and resistance to LNG both domestically and globally.

The Unseen Impacts of Liquefied Natural Gas: Methane Leaks

While the use of natural gas has been perceived as a cleaner alternative to some other common energy sources, Bill McKibben highlights critical issues associated with LNG that have gone largely unnoticed. One of them is the danger of methane releases, which are all too common in the natural gas extraction and storage process.

When natural gas, particularly methane, escapes during the processes of fracking, piping, and shipping, it becomes a potent contributor to climate change. Methane, if released into the atmosphere, is 80 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide (CO2) in the short term. This makes methane one of the most immediately dangerous greenhouse gasses in the world given its wildly potent impact. Recent studies reveal that the emissions from transporting LNG make it, at best, 24% worse than coal, contradicting the perception that natural gas is a cleaner alternative. But often, those arguing in support of the energy source fail to consider the big picture. Energy isn’t simply used, it is extracted, piped, transported, and stored: and in the process, there are many environmental and climate impacts.

The Changing Renewable Energy Landscape

A decade or two ago, the rationale for expanding LNG exports may have seemed quite reasonable, given how expensive renewable energy was at the time. However, the energy landscape has evolved significantly since the notion of natural gas as a "bridge fuel." The exponential drop in renewable energy prices, with solar and wind becoming more affordable, challenges the need for LNG, even as a “transition” away from coal or oil. As Bill McKibben has pointed out, the shift to renewable energy is not only environmentally responsible but also economically viable. And, crucially, the plan was never to expand LNG production permanently or in the long term. LNG has consistently been purported as a transitional opportunity – the lesser of many bad energy options – to help us transition to a greener future. Now that actual green alternatives are more accessible, more affordable, and more efficient, the rationale for expanding LNG is losing its appeal.

What Does the Expansion of LNG Mean for Local and Global Communities?

As McKibben and many other advocates have pointed out, LNG is drawing similar resistance as other major fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline. Part of the reason LNG is already facing strong opposition from many communities on the ground is because it has the potential to produce the exact same disproportionate outcomes that other energy sources already do. Marginalized communities – all too often communities of color and/or low-income communities – are forced to bear the brunt of air and water pollution and general environmental degradation. Living near a facility like those can not only pose long-term health risks, it can also decrease property values, condemning entire communities into a cycle of poverty. This is why McKibben and experts call these areas national “sacrifice zones.”

On top of the impact on nearby communities, the expansion of U.S. LNG export capacity is hindering, rather than aiding, the global transition to clean energy. The impact may not be intentional, but LNG could be undermining the growth of renewable energy markets rather than simply replacing coal. Meanwhile, we are at a crucial juncture when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that the world has only six years to cut emissions in half to align with the Paris Agreement. This means expanding renewables is more important than ever. And, to make matters even more dire, emissions from exported LNG are not accounted for in the current international carbon counting system, which means the U.S. can currently claim it is reducing more emissions than it is in reality.

International Pressure and COP28

Many campaigns – both abroad and domestically – are attempting to put pressure on the U.S. to stop expanding its network of LNG export facilities, and instead redirect energy towards truly green, renewable energy. However, as mentioned at the top of this article, the current administration is pushing forward full-steam to expand LNG production and exportation.

Tensions were heightened at COP28, where over 250 environmental and community groups signed an open letter calling on President Biden to stop permitting new LNG facilities. Other activists engaged in direct action at the conference, holding signs pushing leaders to “stop exporting climate chaos” through LNG expansion.

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