Exporting More Oil and Gas Hurts Communities and the Climate

Last week, alarm spread throughout communities across the U.S. impacted by extractive industries when President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced plans to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels that includes exporting additional liquefied natural gas (LNG).  

Despite the oil and gas industry’s misinformation campaign, investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is not the solution to immediately alleviate those impacted by Russia’s war with Ukraine or achieve energy independence from Russia in Europe.

European gas terminals do not have enough capacity to absorb this kind of LNG expansion. The U.S. is already operating at near full export capacity, so exporting an additional 50 billion cubic meters (bcm) of LNG to Europe each year would very likely require new LNG export facilities, which take roughly three to five years and billions of dollars to build.

Investment in fossil fuel infrastructure would lock us into decades more fossil fuel demand and a consequent irreversible climate and health catastrophe. It would increase levels of toxic pollution and related health impacts (including heart disease, asthma, and cancer) in local communities, as well as intensify the devastating health impacts of climate change that affect the entire world. Particularly in the U.S., where our current policies and federal environmental regulations have already failed to protect people and address environmental racism and injustice, the disproportionate harms from climate change and health crises are directly interconnected and hitting those in already marginalized communities the hardest. 

The majority of existing gas export terminals are along coastal Texas and Louisiana, fed from extraction in the Permian Basin and heavy industry in the Gulf Coast. There is nothing about these projects that is in the interest of the local community or national interest, and they will not ease global conflict.Construction of new export capacity could accelerate drilling for oil in the Permian Basin, that would otherwise stay in the ground, at a time when the global economy is transitioning to renewables and the world is calling for low carbon energy solutions to address the threats of global climate change. 

Along with pushing back against the threat of new gas infrastructure, the Biden administration has the power to deny unnecessary crude oil export infrastructure as well. Among those projects, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeig’s agencies are considering five deepwater port applications that would vastly expand U.S. oil and gas exports. These new export terminals would carry up to 7 million barrels of oil per day on the largest oil tankers on Earth, through coastal waters of Texas and Lousisana in the Gulf of Mexico. There has been significant effort from impacted community members and local groups that the risks of these projects far outweigh any benefits. The risks, including oil spills, harmful pollution, threats to endangered species, desecration of sensitive and sacred indigenous lands have led to significant delay. Investment in clean energy and energy efficiency would create job opportunities touted by export projects without inundating people in the Gulf Coast with more industrial facilities. 

Since President Obama lifted the ban on crude oil exports in 2015, virtually all U.S. production growth has gone to export, growing over 750 percent since December 2015. As a result, a massive number of processing and export facilities are planned for the U.S. Gulf Coast that will raise toxic burdens higher than ever. Frontline communities, recently echoed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have been calling for President Biden to reinstate the U.S. crude oil export ban. 

This is not the time to expand the harm that is created along the entire chain of extraction to emission.  Now is the time to stand firm in commitments to center environmental justice and equity, to stand with the people of Ukraine in defending against Russia’s invasion and oppose any company using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to increase their profits or as another excuse to continue its current reckless, harmful behavior. This includes sourcing the minerals needed for transitioning to renewable energy primarily from recycling, reusing, and substitution. These solutions, paired with demand reduction, are the only way to ensure such a transition does not exacerbate the historic injustices all extraction has caused and continues to cause.

Halting fossil fuel expansion immediately is the only way nations worldwide can realize their commitment to the rapid and just transition from extractive harmful energy systems. At large, the Biden administration cannot fulfill their commitment to act on climate while approving offshore drilling, increasing harmful extraction, and expanding exports.