LNG conference seen as “branding” exercise
With climate disasters ravaging much of North America, the world’s largest LNG conference took place in Vancouver in mid-July. Some protested as gas companies announced deals to expand LNG.
(Vancouver, Canada) The largest gathering of executives from the global LNG industry took place in Vancouver, British Columbia from July 10-13, where gas executives went to great lengths to brand LNG as “clean energy” and a solution to the climate crisis.
The event included oil majors Chevron, ExxonMobil, TotalEnergies, Shell, and Eni, as well as state-backed gas companies like QatarEnergy and Petronas, and LNG-focused gas exporters including Cheniere Energy. Pipeline companies, global engineering firms, and oilfield services giants were also in attendance.
“There’s going to be no way for the world to meet carbon emissions reductions without LNG being able to displace the reliance on coal and other higher emitting fuels,” Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said in a keynote speech at the LNG2023 conference.
Gas Outlook registered to attend LNG2023 and had its credentials approved in May. But in early July, a few days before the event was set to start, the conference organizers revoked its registration, without explanation.
Instead, Gas Outlook spoke with activists outside the Vancouver Convention Center who protested the presence of so many large international fossil fuel companies gathered in one place, and to push back on the industry’s attempts to frame themselves as part of the solution.
The protesters held a “die-in,” in which a group of around 40 or 50 people simulated choking to death, a representation of the pollution emitted from gas operations. Conference attendees dressed in suits shuffled in and out of the convention center, stopping to look on amid the commotion. Some appeared perplexed seeing protesters lying on the ground, others amused. A handful took pictures, shaking their heads in frustration. Others averted their eyes and walked on.
On a megaphone, activists denounced both the historic levels of carbon pollution from the fossil fuel industry and the record levels of profits recorded last year. The climate activists then walked around the side of the building, and banged on the windows while chanting and yelling at the gas conference attendees standing on the other side of the glass.
“LNG is a fossil fuel like any other fossil fuel. It’s not clean, it’s not green, it’s not low carbon,” Kiki Wood, senior oil and gas campaigner for Stand.earth, a British Columbia-focused environmental NGO, told Gas Outlook at the protest. “A lot of that rhetoric is just that. It’s just branding. None of it is true. It’s greenwashing.”
She said that the LNG buildout in BC will make it impossible for the province to reach its climate targets.
“If we continue to approve new LNG projects…what’s going to happen is other sectors are going to start to make gains in reducing their emissions by electrifying buildings, electrifying transit, and then we’re gonna have all this LNG come online and it’s going to erase all the good work that we’ve done,” Wood said.
More LNG deals
While the skies over the Vancouver Convention Center were crystal clear, a rapid series of catastrophic climate disasters unfolded across North America in mid-July, from floods in Vermont, extreme heat across the U.S. south, and surging ocean temperatures off the coast of Florida. Canada itself has had a historically bad wildfire season already, with smoke choking the continent for days and weeks at a time. And the world recently recorded yet another grim milestone — the Earth is now warmer than it has been in 125,000 years.
Against the backdrop of a worsening climate crisis, LNG companies gathered along the waterfront in Vancouver amid gleaming skyscrapers and announced a flurry of deals to expand gas infrastructure.
Ksi Lisims LNG, a proposed project in northern British Columbia, awarded an engineering contract to Black & Veatch, an indication that the project is progressing. UK-based Centrica reached a 15-year agreement to import LNG from Delfin LNG, a proposed floating LNG project to be assembled off the coast of Louisiana.
“Natural gas is an essential transition fuel in the move to net zero,” Centrica’s CEO Chris O’Shea said in a statement, echoing the language of many LNG2023 participants regarding the role of gas.
In addition, after years of delay, NextDecade announced its final investment decision for Rio Grande LNG, a massive export project to be built in south Texas.
“Achieving FID is an important milestone in NextDecade’s mission of becoming a reliable supplier of low-carbon LNG that will replace coal with a cleaner source of energy,” Bayo Ogunlesi, CEO of Global Infrastructure Partners, an investor in Rio Grande LNG, said in a statement.
One of the overarching themes at LNG2023 was the significant role that LNG can play in fighting climate change —by exporting gas from the U.S. and Canada to Asia in order to displace coal, LNG can reduce emissions, gas companies argued.
But as far back as the early 2010s, there was evidence undercutting that logic. Since then, the scientific research has only grown stronger.
Even under optimal circumstances, replacing one fossil fuel with another would amount to questionable progress. But in reality, gas operations do not run smoothly.
Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas with a warming potential more than 80 times stronger than CO2 over a 20-year period. And it leaks and seeps out at every stage of the process, including from drilling sites, gathering lines, compressor stations, long distance pipelines, distribution lines, storage tanks, under city streets, and even in our homes.
And those are routine. There are also “super emitters” – facilities that release enormous bursts of methane clouds when equipment malfunctions for one reason or another. Satellite technology, which has improved dramatically in just the past few years, reveals that huge methane releases from oil and gas infrastructure are more common than previously known.
A new peer-reviewed study shows that methane leaks from the gas supply chain at rates that wipe out any perceived benefit over coal, reinforcing and echoing many other studies coming to similar conclusions.
As a result, the ongoing expansion of gas infrastructure represents a rather dire threat to the climate, critics note.
“This fossil fuel conference is out of touch with reality as global heat records shatter and the worst wildfire season in Canada’s history is recorded,” Severn Cullis-Suzuki, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation, a prominent Canadian NGO, said in a statement. “The claim that fracking methane gas is ‘natural’ or ‘clean’ is misleading and dangerous. It’s madness to entertain proposals for fossil fuel expansion.”