Biden won’t let America supply the world with low-carbon gas. It’s green energy madness

LNG tanker 'Arctic Lady' brings a cargo of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in to the Deutsche Ostsee terminal in Germany, April 2024
LNG tanker 'Arctic Lady' brings a cargo of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in to the Deutsche Ostsee terminal in Germany, April 2024 - Stefan Sauer/DPA

Many experts have questioned the wisdom of the Biden White House’s ordering a “pause” in permitting new export infrastructure for liquefied natural gas (LNG) since it was put in place in late January. Citing the strategic leverage in global affairs provided by America’s leading position in the LNG export market, critics contend that the pause – especially with its open-ended nature – will only serve to diminish confidence among US trading partners and allies in their ability to continue to rely on the US gas industry to fill their needs.

Those opposed to the policy also contend that the pause has opened the door for competing exporting nations, like Qatar, Australia, and even Russia to ramp up their own exports and permanently seize bigger shares of the global market. Such concerns have been confirmed in recent months with moves by both Qatar and Russia to raise their own export volumes and install new infrastructure as the Biden White House fiddles.

A new study conducted by Berkeley Research Group (BRG) serves to confirm another criticism of the Biden pause, which is that US LNG exports result in lower greenhouse emissions than natural gas supplied by competing countries, and much lower compared with coal, the major competing fuel source in both Europe and Asia. BRG employed full life cycle methodologies and included “the most recent publicly available methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) data” to create results for eight European and five Asian countries for the year 2022.

The top line finding from the BRG study concludes, “GHG emissions intensity of US LNG in 2022 was less than 50 per cent of coal in both Europe and Asia and lower than pipeline gas imported from Algeria, Russia, and Turkmenistan”. However the report did also find that US LNG emissions were higher than pipeline gas coming into central Europe from Azerbaijan and Norway.

It should come as no surprise that US LNG emissions are less than half those of coal. The fact that US gas emissions are so dramatically lower than much of the pipeline gas coming into the European countries included in the study should raise concerns given the ongoing heavy reliance on Russian gas in central and northern Europe.

One major bit of irony in all this is the fact that Biden officials justified their pause with a claimed need to fully study the scale of emissions being created by the rapidly growing US LNG industry. A similar specious rationale was in part used as justification for President Biden’s Day 1 executive order cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline expansion.

The BRG report was commissioned by LNG Allies and the American Exploration & Production Council (AXPC), eliciting criticism from anti-oil and gas groups.

Open-cast lignite (brown coal) mining near the Neurath coal-fired power station in Germany. Germany continues to make significant use of coal power
Open-cast lignite (brown coal) mining near the Neurath coal-fired power station in Germany. Germany continues to make significant use of coal power - Ina Fassbender/AFP

“The LNG industry continues to put forward this false dichotomy between gas versus coal, while completely ignoring renewable energy in the equation,” Cathy Collentine, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said in a statement. “To accurately assess the profound impacts of gas exports on the climate crisis, we must incorporate comparisons to rapidly increasing access to clean electricity.”

But that exercise in what about-ism ignores the continuing fact that, while deployment of wind and solar is accelerating, it still has not managed to satisfy even the pace of rising demand for energy. That reality leaves the countries included in the study little choice but to find ways to replace natural gas supplied by US LNG with the alternatives analyzed in BRG’s study. Nations also need reliable supplies of dispatchable energy to cover the absence of renewable energy during sunless, windless periods.

As quoted by E&E News, LNG Allies CEO Fred Hutchison defends the report against such attacks by pointing to facts on the ground.

“In 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine and the gas got cut off, it wasn’t more solar or wind used in those periods of time,” Hutchinson said. “If there were, they would’ve reduced the demand for US LNG. As it was, the world was desperate for LNG, and mostly Europe was desperate for LNG.”

At the CERAWeek conference held in Houston in March, Biden Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm assured attendees that the “pause” would be temporary, saying it “will be well in the rearview mirror” when the conference convenes in March, 2025. But the Houston Chronicle reported Granholm’s remarks received an icy reception from the audience, most of whom have learned from hard experience to distrust such statements specific to their business from this President and his appointees.

Policy certainty and consistency has long been one of the fundamental factors that has made the United States one of the most attractive places for major capital investment on earth. Arbitrary decisions so clearly motivated by political considerations like this permitting pause seem almost designed to rob the country of that strategic edge.

David Blackmon had a 40 year career in the US energy industry, the last 23 years of which were spent in the public policy arena, managing regulatory and legislative issues for various companies. He continues to write and podcast on energy matters