Keystone opponents’ next target: Natural gas exports

Sending natural gas abroad opens up a “whole new category of fossil fuel trouble," environmentalists say [UPDATED]

Topics: U.S. Natural Gas, Russia, fracking, Keystone XL pipeline, Climate Change, Methane, CO2, Coal, , ,

The crisis in Ukraine, leading environmental groups say, isn’t going to be solved by natural gas exports – and efforts in the House to speed up exports will instead only hasten climate change.

Led by Bill McKibben of and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, the groups are urging President Obama to oppose a bill that would require the Department of Energy to instantly approve the 20-some applications currently on file for natural gas export terminals, which McKibben, an outspoken opponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, calls “a whole new category of fossil fuel trouble.” Specifically, they’re focusing their efforts on the proposed $3.8 billion Cove Point facility in Maryland — conveniently located just 65 miles south of the White House on Chesapeake Bay.

In a letter sent to Obama Tuesday, the groups emphasized the environmental hazards associated with increased fracking:

…we are disturbed by your administration’s support for hydraulic fracturing and, particularly, your plan to build liquefied natural gas export terminals along U.S. coastlines that would ship large amounts of fracked gas around the world. We call on you to reverse course on this plan and commit instead to keeping most of our nation’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground, in line with the recommendations of most of the world’s leading climate scientists.

…Cove Point is emblematic of the irrational and fast-track strategy of the gas industry to export U.S. fracked gas and then ask questions later. The truth is that Cove Point, like other proposed LNG export terminals, will raise U.S. gas prices – harming virtually all Americans – while becoming a historic catalyst for more fracking across the mid-Atlantic and triggering a huge new pulse of climate pollution.

Yet despite all this, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – part of your federal government – does not intend to even conduct a full and customary Environmental Impact Statement on the $3.8 billion project. Please, Mr. President, demand that FERC conduct an EIS. Given a full and fair accounting of the facts, we believe the clear economic and climate reality will become clear to you and the nation: Cove Point and the general push for LNG exports is NOT in America’s best interest or the world’s.

In response to the letter, Dominion Resources Inc. pointed to a report it commissioned showing how natural gas exports could halve greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal abroad. But the groups countered that the study ignored the entire life cycle of natural gas — methane leakage, for example, can end up eliminating any of the potential climate benefits of natural gas. And that, they say, is why it’s so important the government conduct a thorough environmental review.

“Obama and the gas industry supporters say over and over that this is good for the environment,” Tidwell said. “We’re saying, ‘prove it.’ We need to get the evidence on the table and the American public will decide if it makes sense.”

UPDATED 3/20/2014 1:00 PM ET: Dominion Energy responded to the groups’ claim that its report did not fully account for the life cycle of natural gas. “Our study (“Lifecyle GHG Emissions from LNG Exports”) does, in fact, take into account methane emitted in the production, transportation and processing of natural gas,” said Chet Wade, Dominion’s Vice President of Communications. ”Even after factoring in GHG impact of the lost methane, displacing coal with U.S. LNG exports for power production would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52 percent. The benefits are very clear.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email

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