Fact Check: Did the Biden Administration Just Approve an Expansion of Fracked Gas Exports?

Last week, the Biden administration’s Department of Energy announced that it had signed off on a request by Cheniere Energy to authorize exports of liquefied fracked gas (known as LNG) from two currently operating export facilities on the Gulf Coast: Sabine Pass in Louisiana and Corpus Christi in Texas. 

If you read about it in the news (with headlines like, “Biden administration approves more LNG exports,” and “Biden administration approves more LNG exports to Europe”) you probably assumed that the administration caved to the pressure that Republicans and the fossil fuel industry are laying on thick right now in hopes of locking in decades of new gas exports and fossil fuel reliance in response to the crisis in Ukraine and the chaos it’s caused to energy markets. But the reality is a bit more complicated. 

It helps to understand how gas exports are permitted by the Department of Energy. Any time a company wants authorization to export gas fracked in the United States overseas, it needs permission from DOE, which is supposed to determine if the proposed exports are in the public interest. Exports to countries with whom the US has a free trade agreement are automatically considered to be in the public interest. Exports to non-free trade agreement countries require an analysis based on factors like energy supply, gas prices, or global strategic interests, and then DOE can either authorize or reject the application, at least in theory. (In reality, DOE has never actually rejected one of these applications, despite concerns about climate, public health, environmental justice, and the impact of increased exports on domestic energy prices; that’s one of the things we’re urging the Biden administration to change.) 

So, last week’s DOE order didn’t actually increase the amount of gas being exported abroad. Rather, for the most part it just allowed Cheniere to ship gas, that would have gone elsewhere, to European countries, including those with whom we don’t have free trade agreements.

So the Biden administration’s decision isn’t as alarming as it seemed at first glance. But there’s still reason to be concerned. 

Redirecting existing exports to help ease the supply crunch in Europe is one thing. Helping the industry move forward with its massive proposed expansion of new and expanded fracked gas export facilities, which would lock in decades of reliance on gas at the expense of our climate and communities, is another. And that’s what the industry is pushing for. 

Of the nearly 20 new or expanded gas export facilities proposed for the Gulf Coast, almost all already have the federal permits they need. Yet last year, none of them moved forward, because of legal challenges, shaky financing, and a failure to line up enough buyers to satisfy investors. The industry doesn’t just want permission from the administration to build these export facilities; they also want financial support in the form of tax credits, loans, and other subsidies that make the public bear the risk of their endeavors. 

Make no mistake: Giving the industry what it wants would do nothing to solve the problem of high gas prices at the pump, or to ease potential energy shortages in Europe. Almost all of the gas export facilities on the Gulf Coast are already operating at their full capacity and already approved to export gas to Europe. That means DOE won’t be able to replicate the trick it pulled with Sabine Pass and Corpus Christi to redirect existing exports. Instead, any further expansion would mean multiyear construction projects to expand the capacity of existing facilities or build new ones. This would do nothing to help Europe in the short term, and instead would lock in decades of reliance on fossil fuels at a time when Europe has made it clear they would rather transition to clean energy. 

Experts agree that in order to achieve the administration’s climate goals and avert the worst of the climate crisis, there must be no new expansion of fossil fuel production or infrastructure—including for gas exports. Despite this, proponents of expanded LNG exports are cynically trying to capitalize on the current crisis and use it to justify a massive, long-term expansion of fossil fuel development and exports.

If the DOE’s recent decision sets the stage for the major expansion of new fossil fuel infrastructure the industry is pushing for, it would be a disaster for our climate, and for Gulf Coast communities that already bear the brunt of industrial pollution and the increasingly severe impacts of extreme weather driven by the climate crisis. As our colleague John Beard, founder and president of Port Arthur Community Action Network , said, “There's an old saying that the first step in getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Allowing the fossil fuel industry to export even more gas would be inconsistent with President Biden's commitment to be the climate president. The Gulf Coast is at the nexus of climate change: Rising sea levels, increased pollution, powerful storms, and extreme heat as well as record-setting rainfall are made worse due to the increasing fossil fuel use, including gas. So we call on the president to be true to his word, to stop the buildout of the fossil fuel infrastructure here on the Gulf Coast, and instead jumpstart an age of clean, green renewable energy. Our lives depend on it.”

Transition off of oil and gas wouldn’t just help us avert the worst of the climate crisis. It would also keep us from becoming even more vulnerable to future price shocks the next time there’s a global crisis. As long as we rely on volatile global commodities like oil and gas, we’ll always be vulnerable to geopolitics and the whims of greedy fossil fuel executives. To achieve true energy independence, we must rapidly transition to affordable clean energy, not double down on risky fossil fuels.

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