Sierra Club has released a new report highlighting the significant risks of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG), and calling on the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to take a careful look at the dangerous effects of increased fracking on Americans’ water, air, land and health.
The report, “Look Before the LNG Leap,” cautions against the rubber stamp approval of proposed liquefied natural gas export facilities, and refutes the Department of Energy’s claim that it cannot predict where new fracking will occur as a result of approved LNG exports. The DOE has been using this argument as its main reason against performing a thorough environmental impact statement to study the full effects of exporting natural gas.
The report shows that DOE’s own energy models can and do make those predictions.
“The Department of Energy should look at the full picture of what exporting LNG will mean for Americans’ health, communities and check books,” said Deb Nardone, Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign director. “If we blindly move forward with LNG exports, the American people will be left footing the bill while natural gas companies rake in more cash with zero accountability for their toxic pollution.”
Shipping natural gas to foreign countries would increase dirty, dangerous fracking in Americans’ backyards, drive up energy prices for American families and put Americans’ health and our climate at risk— while doing nothing to address our nation’s energy challenges. DOE must do the right thing and begin an open, public environmental impact assessment before we blindly transform the energy landscape and communities across the country.
“This new report underscores the urgent need to move beyond all fossil fuels,”said Nardone. “An economy based on energy efficiency and clean energy sources like wind and solar is the only safe and responsible way to achieve true energy security while putting Americans to work.”
Craig Segall, a Sierra Club staff attorney, wrote the executive summary of the report, excerpted here:
Exporting American natural gas to the world market would spur unconventional natural gas production across the country, increasing pollution and disrupting landscapes and communities. ...
Yet, as the Department of Energy considers whether to greenlight gas exports of as much as 45% of current U.S. gas production—more gas than the entire domestic power industry burns in a year—it has refused to disclose, or even acknowledge, the environmental consequences of its decisions. In fact, DOE has not even acknowledged that its own National Energy Modeling System can be used to help develop much of this information, instead preferring to turn a blind eye to the problem. DOE needs to change course.
Even much smaller volumes of export have substantial environmental implications and exporting a large percentage of the total volume proposed would greatly affect the communities and ecosystems across America. The public and policy-makers deserve, and are legally entitled to, a full accounting of these impacts.
Gas exports are only possible because of the unconventional natural gas boom which hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has unlocked. DOE’s own advisory board has warned of the boom’s serious environmental impacts.
These environmental considerations include significant threats to air and water quality from the industry’s wastes, and the industrialization of entire landscapes. Gas production is associated with significant volumes of highly-contaminated wastewater and the risk of groundwater contamination; it has also brought persistent smog problems to entire regions, along with notable increases in toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants.
Regulatory measures to address these impacts have been inadequate.
Natural gas exports also have important climate policy implications on several fronts: Even if exported gas substitutes for coal abroad (which it may or may not do), it will not produce emissions reductions sufficient to stabilize the climate, and gas exports will increase our investment in fossil fuels.
Moreover, the gas export process is particularly carbon-intensive, and gas exports will likely raise gas prices domestically, increasing the market share of dirty coal power, meaning that perceived climate benefits may be quite limited if they exist at all. The upshot is that increasing gas production comes with significant domestic costs.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process is designed to generate just such an analysis. NEPA analyses, properly done, provide full, fair, descriptions of a project’s environmental implications, remaining uncertainties, and alternatives that could avoid environmental damage. A full NEPA environmental impact statement looking programmatically at export would help DOE and the public fairly weigh these proposals’ costs and benefits, and to work with policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels to address any problems.
In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly called for just such an analysis. Without one, America risks committing itself to a permanent role as a gas supplier to the world without determining whether it can do so safely while protecting important domestic interests.
The bottom line is that before committing to massive gas exports, federal decision makers need to ensure that they, and the public, have the environmental information they need to make a fair decision, and the authority to do so. That means ensuring that a full environmental impact statement discloses exports’ impacts and develops alternatives to reduce them.
It also means defending DOE’s prerogatives against the unintended effects of trade pacts. Congress and the U.S. trade negotiators must ensure that agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are designed to maintain DOE’s vital public interest inquiry.
Gas exports would transform the energy landscape and communities across the country. We owe ourselves an open national conversation to test whether they are in the public interest. We need to look before we leap.