Nov 8 (Reuters) – Carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. liquefied natural gas facilities have risen to 18 million tons per year, an increase of 81% since 2019, adding an amount of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere equivalent to that produced by several large coal-fired power stations, according to US government data.
These could more than double to 45 million tons per year by the end of this decade as new facilities, spurred by surging demand for the super-cooled fuel, come into service, according to company forecasts provided to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Reserve. Energy Regulatory Commission tallied by Reuters.
The emissions numbers and projections, which have not previously been reported, reflect a difficult trade-off for the Biden administration, which wants to boost fuel shipments to European allies while cutting greenhouse gas production at home to fight climate change.
The Biden White House has said American LNG could help Europe reduce its dependence on gas supplies from Russia, which is facing Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine. The government approved five U.S. LNG export licenses to serve the European market after Russia’s invasion, without approving any beforehand.
The White House did not return messages seeking comment on the increase in emissions from the LNG sector. The Energy Department, which oversees LNG export permits, said it is funding several initiatives aimed at reducing carbon emissions from LNG terminals and other sources.
US special climate envoy John Kerry told Reuters last year that greenhouse gas emissions were an inevitable “downside” of increasing LNG exports to European allies.
Carbon dioxide emissions from all seven operating U.S. LNG export facilities reached 17.6 million metric tons in 2022, an increase of 81% since 2019, when the industry had six facilities, according to EPA data.
By 2028, five projects now under construction will come online, creating an additional 27 million metric tons of emissions annually, according to company forecasts to the EPA and FERC.
That amounts to more than 45 million tons per year by the end of this decade, or roughly 2.5% of current U.S. energy industry CO2 emissions.
LNG exporters have meanwhile shelved plans to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) to reduce emissions, regulators’ filings show, casting doubt on the technology’s viability as a large-scale solution to the industry’s climate impact .
CO2 emissions from the energy-intensive process of liquefying gas for export are just one stage in the industry’s overall climate impact. Methane leaks during drilling, piping, transportation and distribution also contribute to pollution – even before the fuel is used.
A CLEANER FUEL?
The United States became an LNG exporter in 2016 thanks to a domestic natural gas drilling boom, with overseas shipments rapidly increasing.
U.S. LNG exports averaged a record 11.6 billion cubic feet per day in the first half of 2023, up 4% from the first half of last year, with much of those volumes going to Europe , making the United States the world’s largest exporter according to figures. the Energy Information Administration.
Proponents of LNG claim the fuel burns cleaner than coal.
“Countries around the world are trying to replicate the U.S. model for economic development and rapid reductions in carbon emissions, which is moving away from dirtier fuels and toward combining natural gas with renewable energy sources,” said Robert Fee, vice president of climate and international affairs for LNG exporter Cheniere Energy (LNG.A).
Critics say it is unclear whether the boom in U.S. gas exports to Europe is displacing coal or slowing the transition to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
“We don’t really know how much coal is being moved into these overseas markets,” said Alexandra Shaykevich, an analyst at the Washington-based Environmental Integrity Project.
Doubts about carbon capture
Three LNG operators – Freeport LNG, Sempra (SRE.N) and Venture Global have announced plans in 2021 and 2022 to use carbon capture to prevent some of their greenhouse gases from reaching the atmosphere.
Freeport’s CCS project would begin injecting CO2 pollution from its Texas plant into the ground by 2024, according to a 2021 press release. But in a notice to the SEC in August, Talos Energy, a partner in the project, said: “We have no future development plans related to the project.”
Freeport declined to comment on the development and Talos did not return messages.
Sempra announced a plan last year to include a CCS project at its Cameron LNG facility in Louisiana. But the company has said in SEC disclosures that the project needs a commitment from its partners before moving forward.
Sempra did not respond to requests for comment on the likelihood of the project being built.
Upcoming CCS projects are also questionable.
NextDecade Corp has said the proposed terminal near Brownsville, Texas, could remove more than 90% of the projected 6.4 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. But the company told Reuters that the economic situation is uncertain.
“There must be customers willing to support the revenue requirements to cover the costs of financing, building and operating the facility and to achieve an acceptable return on invested capital,” said spokesperson Susan Richardson.