This is the second and final part of our MMRV blog series. You can view Part 1 here.
Under the Biden administration, the Department of Energy has enabled the oil and gas industry to make record profits by falsely marketing U.S. methane gas as “clean” all the while expanding exporting capabilities at the expense of environmental justice communities that they promised to protect.
The United States became the world’s top exporter of methane gas (LNG) this year and the LNG export industry is pushing for more growth. The Biden administration’s policy for expanding gas exports does not factor major consequences of LNG exports – climate impacts, harms of proposed gas export facilities in the communities where they are built, increased fracking, and price volatility.
Since the war in Ukraine began, gas producing countries have reignited a dangerous effort to market and export their methane in the form of LNG on false “climate” pretenses. The United States has unapologetically led the charge on this rush to capitalize in the wake of war. While the administration is framing this as a good deed to the world, the reality is much more complicated.
The methane gas industry hopes to build roughly 20 new and expanded methane gas export facilities (aka LNG terminals), concentrated in communities across the Gulf Coast. Building new gas export terminals for LNG causes unjust and inequitable community health, climate, and environmental impacts. Gas facilities and infrastructure are sited in low-income communities, communities of color, and on Indigenous lands due to decades of economic disenfranchisement and systemic racism. These same communities are also the hardest hit by the effects of climate change, caused by emissions from fossil fuel production and use.
Exporting and importing LNG is a complicated and expensive endeavor built on short sighted justifications and outdated policies that ignore negative impacts. It would require a new, sprawling buildout of terminals, liquefaction plants, and pipelines, which are all major sources of health and climate harming pollution. Financing these projects often requires a commitment to operate them long into the future. In the United States, terminals that haven’t even broken ground are signing 20 year lease agreements with producers. They also have been found to be unstable and likely economically unviable. In other words, not a good idea.
That puts these projects in direct conflict with what we know must happen to avoid climate catastrophe. The IEA’s Net Zero Scenario clearly shows that even with the most ambitious methane emissions reduction possible, fossil fuel demand actually declines at least 25% by 2030 and over 80% by 2050. Despite this, the industry continues to push increased fossil fuel supply capacity on the false pretenses that consumers still want it.
Graph from OCI
So how can countries, who have climate and environmental justice commitments to uphold, justify moving forward with such destructive plans?
Weaponizing Climate Data
It may not be surprising then, that the United States is also leading the charge to adopt a new global MMRV framework. In their own words the Department of Energy “is working with natural gas importing and exporting countries to develop an agreed approach to MMRV that provides consistency and accountability in the marketplace.”
They go on to say that the MMRV framework they are developing will “help American industry achieve among the lowest emissions profiles of any natural gas producer in the world, demonstrating that natural gas production, consumption and exports from the United States can effectively align our energy security and climate goals.”
In April the DOE sent out a request for information on “Opportunities To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Other Air Pollutants Associated With U.S. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Exports.” Then in July, the U.S. joined Korea, Japan, Australia and the European Commission in a joint statement pledging to accelerate reductions of methane from the LNG supply chain.
But the one thing you won’t find in any of these efforts from the administration is an effort to track and ramp down production. In fact, in a public webinar the Department openly stated it is decidedly not including production data as part of the MMRV framework criteria.
Emissions reductions from the DOE’s proposed MMRV framework are intensity-based reductions. In other words, they are focused on reducing emissions associated with creating a unit of gas. If production stays the same and emissions intensity goes down, then overall emissions will go down. However, if production increases, things are a lot less clear. So, to know if we are truly reducing emissions, we also need to look at the rate at which we are producing units of LNG.
Simply put, the more LNG expansion, the more production will grow and the less effective mitigation efforts will be. If the administration continues to encourage, facilitate, and subsidize LNG expansion – as they are currently doing, it is entirely possible that we would increase pollution overall, not decrease it.
A simple solution
The world leaders in climate and energy research are making it clear: reducing emissions without reducing production will never be enough to stop climate catastrophe. Reducing emissions is essential and important – particularly for people who currently live, work and play next to polluting facilities. But without commitments now to phase out fossil fuels, programs to reduce pollution intensity are far more effective at saving the oil & gas industry than doing what is necessary to save people in the not so distant future.
The IEA’s net zero emissions roadmap concluded decarbonization efforts like CCS are not working and therefore the trajectory away from fossil fuels must happen faster than previous models outlined. They also clearly stated that “[a]ttempts by governments to [prioritize] domestic production must [recognize] the risk of locking in emissions that could push the world over the 1.5 °C threshold…”
Therefore, the MMRV framework coupled with the DOE’s continued approval of LNG facilities risks undermining the most important action needed to address the climate crisis: phasing out oil and gas production and consumption.
Bottom Line: World leaders, like President Biden, need to both clean up and phase out fossil fuels – at the same time.