BY STEFANIE HERWECK
6.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year.
That’s a conservative estimate of how much three proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) companies would pump into the atmosphere each year in order to liquefy their total capacity of gas for export.
That’s more than 40 times the GHGs currently emitted by standing sources in Cameron County. It’s about as much as two coal-fired power plants would emit in a year, and approximately the same amount of GHG pollution produced to power 900,000 homes with electricity.
In other words, the LNG industrial complex would supersize the carbon footprint of the Rio Grande Valley.
This number includes the GHGs generated by burning natural gas, either at the LNG facilities or at a power plant, in order to fuel the liquefaction process. It also accounts for the carbon dioxide that will be vented directly into the air during the gas refining process. None of the LNG facilities have plans to capture this carbon dioxide. GHGs are also released during the flaring that the companies will do to in order to release pressure from the system.
But the GHGs emitted in conjunction with the LNG terminals themselves are only a part of the total greenhouse gas footprint of LNG exports.
The liquefaction plants will be fed by natural gas extracted through fracking from the Eagle Ford Shale. We know that natural gas production, especially shale gas production, is a leaky business. Methane escapes throughout the process of drilling, gathering, refining and transporting the gas.
These so-called “fugitive” emissions have proved difficult to measure. The EPA’s current official estimate is that 1.6 percent of the natural gas in the supply chain is leaking into atmosphere, but many scientists have criticized this low number, and reports this year (here and here) have suggested the agency is significantly underestimating methane emissions. In fact, aerial and satellite monitoring has detected much larger quantities of methane over shale regions. One such study found the Eagle Ford region could be leaking as much as 9 percent of what it produces into the atmosphere.
This is a serious problem because methane is a super-potent greenhouse gas—its warming potential is 86 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period and 34 times more over 100 years.
LNG exports would certainly intensify this problem. According to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report, 60 to 80 percent of the gas that LNG companies plan to export would have to come from new production—that means 60 to 80 percent more drilling and fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale and an even greater quantity of methane pollution.
The LNG companies argue that gas exports will still be good for the climate because they will replace coal in Europe and Asia. However, a Department of Energy study, using leakage rates that we now know are too low, found that when we account for the cradle-to-delivery GHG pollution of LNG exports, natural gas isn’t any better for the climate than burning local coal in China. If we factor in the more likely higher rates of fugitive emissions, LNG exports are worse than coal in both China and Europe.
And what’s bad for the climate is fast becoming bad for business. According to an analysis issued last week by the financial think-tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, a global agreement to keep warming under two degrees Celsius, which is the ultimate goal of the Paris climate talks, will preclude new major fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Any carbon-intensive projects like the LNG export terminals risk becoming stranded assets in a world with emission limits.
In fact, the think-tank estimates that “Half of the supply in new LNG projects is unneeded and very little new capacity will be needed in the US and Canada in a 2 degree scenario.”
LNG exports are simply too dirty to be a part of the low- and zero-emissions solutions that we need to avert the most disastrous impacts of climate change.
By embracing and promoting the LNG industrial complex, our politicians and business leaders are chaining the Rio Grande Valley to a dying industry, one that would make the Valley a part of the climate change problem, rather than a region that contributes to climate solutions.
The Rio Grande Valley is a frontline community threatened by the worst ills of climate disruption—coastal flooding due to sea level rise and stronger tropical storms, as well as record-setting heat waves and extreme drought. In addition to the human suffering these calamities could bring, they could also have severe impacts on our economy.
Investing in the carbon-intensive LNG industry would be fundamentally self-destructive, like someone diagnosed with lung cancer taking up smoking.
As a community we need to demand that our leaders stop ignoring climate change and reject the LNG industrial complex.
That’s why the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club invites the public to join us Sunday, December 6 at 2:00 pm at the Cameron County People’s Climate March at Washington Park in Brownsville. For more information see the Cameron County People’s Climate March on Facebook.
Stefanie Herweck serves on the executive committee of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.