Mon, Jun 17 2024 17 June, 2024

Advocates call for permanent ban on new U.S. LNG projects

Opponents of the U.S. LNG buildout on the Gulf Coast celebrated the Biden administration’s “pause” on new permitting earlier this year. But they say a temporary reprieve is not enough.

Travis Dardar, a Louisiana fisherman and founder of Fishermen Involved in Sustaining our Heritage (Photo: Gas Outlook/Nick Cunningham)

Louisiana fishermen and other public interest groups are calling for the Biden administration to extend its “pause” on new U.S. LNG permitting by implementing a permanent ban on additional LNG export terminals.

In January, the Biden administration announced that it would freeze the permitting process for all U.S. LNG projects that were awaiting federal decisions, arguing that a deeper analysis on the climate and economic impacts of another wave of gas exports is needed. The administration indicated that such an analysis would take up to a year to complete.

The decision came in response to a successful campaign by a coalition of national environmental organisations and local community groups in Louisiana and Texas, who have been harmed by the enormous ramp-up in gas exports over the past few years. LNG developers, on the other hand, criticised the pause, warning that it would inject uncertainty and turmoil into the financial decisions that drive investment in new LNG.

But opponents of LNG exports are calling for more than just a temporary pause.

“We have no choice. We are fighting this because we have nothing left to lose. They’ve taken everything from us,” Travis Dardar, a Louisiana fisherman and founder of Fishermen Involved in Sustaining our Heritage (F.I.S.H.), told reporters on a May 21 media call. Dardar has led a coalition of fishermen and shrimpers in southwest Louisiana against LNG exports, and has called for an end to new permits.

Gas Outlook reported from Louisiana in early 2024, documenting the existential threat to commercial fishing in southwest Louisiana from the LNG boom.

“We are being run out of business by an industry that is destroying our docks, disrupting fisheries, and damaging our boats and equipment – to say nothing of the mysterious illnesses their pollution is spreading,” Dardar said.

While the U.S. LNG pause was celebrated as a big win for both Louisiana fishermen and for national climate groups, the Biden administration has signalled that the pause is only temporary.

“By the time we meet here at this place next year, it’s going to be long in the rear-view mirror,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said at the CERAWeek conference in Houston in March.

Other experts say that the relentless increase in U.S. LNG exports is not only a concern for coastal fishermen, but is also causing economic harm to Americans around the country.

“The record volumes of methane gas that we are currently exporting have extraordinary impacts on domestic energy markets, that have exposed working families and businesses across the United States to higher prices,” Tyson Slocum, director of the energy programme at Public Citizen, a Washington DC-based consumer advocacy organisation, told reporters.

He pointed to the recent uptick in U.S. gas demand forecasts from utilities, which have argued that the proliferation of data centres, and artificial intelligence, will consume substantial amounts of gas. Slocum said the U.S. cannot increase gas exports and at the same time use more of it for domestic industry. “The expansion of LNG exports is incompatible with what we’re seeing domestically in terms of price impacts” and increasing demand seen for new data centres. More exports will ultimately drive up prices and lead to increased volatility.

He said existing law, requiring a “public interest” determination of gas exports from the Department of Energy, gives more than enough authority to the Biden administration to permanently halt new LNG exports.

“The Department of Energy’s public interest review of pending LNG projects must conclude that additional exports are inconsistent with the public interest,” he said. “Gas exports are a net detriment to energy affordability for Americans.”

In early May, more than 70 Democrats in both the House and Senate sent a letter to President Biden, praising his decision to pause LNG permitting. “We believe the facts are clear: LNG exports harm U.S. households and industrial consumers,” the lawmakers wrote.

Meanwhile, Venture Global’s proposed CP2 project, slated to be built immediately adjacent to its existing Calcasieu Pass LNG facility in Cameron, Louisiana, recently saw another minor setback.

On May 15th, the  Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates U.S. LNG export terminals, sent a request to Venture Global asking for it to update its assessment on cumulative environmental impacts, noting that CP1 is emitting higher volumes of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions than the project originally indicated, which would have ramifications for total levels of pollution for CP2.

As Gas Outlook has repeatedly reported, the Calcasieu Pass (CP1) facility has had operational problems that have resulted in significant flaring events and high levels of air pollution.

In response, Venture Global blasted the “eleventh hour data request” from the federal regulator, viewing it as an unnecessary delay in a project that has already been hit by the Biden administration’s “pause” on LNG, which froze its permit application with the Department of Energy.

But for Louisiana fishermen, the LNG “pause” is only a temporary reprieve.

“Knowing that the administration is slowing down the approval process for new facilities so that regulators can investigate their negative impacts is reassuring,” Dardar said. “But for Louisiana fishermen like me, the more urgent issue is the harm already being done by the industry in Louisiana and all around the Gulf of Mexico.”