Should the US approve 25 proposed liquefied methane gas – often referred to as LNG – export terminal projects, we could see an additional 90 million tons of greenhouse gasses (GHG) released into the atmosphere per year, according to a recent analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). EIP says, “That’s as much climate-warming pollution as from about 18 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles running for a year – more than from all the cars and trucks in Florida or New York State.”
This is a staggering amount of harmful emissions. However, it is only one piece of the puzzle, and the full picture is even more grim. The EIP study looked only at GHG emissions at the liquefaction terminal itself. Those emissions from operating the LNG terminals and liquefaction plants themselves are often only about 5 percent of the total emissions spurred by an LNG project.
Sierra Club looked at the same 25 proposed facilities included in EIP’s study and found the lifecycle emissions- from extraction to the end use of the gas- for the LNG processed there could add greenhouse gasses equivalent to that of 355 million cars, or nearly 450 coal plants, 1,660 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year (MMT CO2e). For scale, this is more cars than there are registered vehicles across the entire United States. Worse yet, there are even more proposed LNG export facilities beyond the 25 included in EIP’s study, increasing the potential GHG impacts further still.
Adding these facilities would mean it would be impossible to meet any global emission reduction goals set by the international community or by the Biden administration. The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that for a 1.5C aligned future we absolutely must stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure, like LNG terminals; in fact existing developed fossil fuel extraction alone would warm the world beyond 1.5C.
The lifecycle of LNG, beyond the liquefaction process at the export terminal facilities, includes upstream emissions from activities like extraction of the gas through fracking, processing the gas, and pipeline transportation. Drilling, storage, and transportation of methane gas leads to hazardous leaks of methane directly into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years. These leaks are even greater than oil and gas companies or government estimates report.
Emissions don’t stop once the fracked gas is liquified. Greenhouse gasses are released when the LNG is shipped overseas, through the process of regasification, and then during combustion of the fracked gas for electricity or other end uses.
Last spring, Annova LNG abandoned its plans for a fracked gas export terminal in the Rio Grande Valley after fierce opposition from communities in South Texas to protect clean air and sacred native lands. Because this particular LNG terminal will not be built, 36 MMT CO2e will be avoided each year. That is like keeping nearly eight million cars off the road or taking 10 coal plants offline.
The Annova LNG terminal may be scrapped, but big gas companies have many other facilities in the works. For example, Venture Global has proposed the Plaquemines LNG terminal on low-lying, vulnerable wetlands in hurricane alley in Louisiana. Beyond all the other disastrous environmental impacts this potential facility would have, Plaquemines LNG would also mean 121 MMT CO2e of GHG emissions released each year from the fracking process to end use in other parts of the world. These lifecycle emissions are equivalent to about 26 million cars. The communities surrounding the Plaquemines LNG terminal cannot afford for it to be built, nor can the global community working to keep the climate crisis in check.
The construction of LNG terminals will have an outsized impact on historically marginalized communities, as they are typically on the doorstep of these polluting facilities. Analysis of the EPA’s EJScreen shows that the majority of the planned and under construction terminals are in communities that have higher air toxics cancer risk, a higher air toxics respiratory hazard index, and higher minority populations and/or low income populations than 75 percent of the country.[i] Communities in Southern Louisiana and near the Plaquemines LNG site, as one example, are largely working class or low income, Black, and Indigenous. People in Plaquemines Parish are already facing the real-time effects of climate change, pollution, and exploitation from fossil fuel corporations. This terminal would only exacerbate these problems.
Instead of building infrastructure that would lock the country into extracting more fossil fuels, we need to accelerate the transition to renewable, clean energy. It would be unheard of to construct 450 coal plants in the country today. So why, then, would we even consider these new and expanded LNG terminals? The clear answer is: we absolutely shouldn’t.
How did we calculate these numbers?
These estimates are based on values from a Carnegie Mellon study on LNG lifecycle emissions using the 20 year global warming potential (GWP) of methane. We use a 20 year GWP (rather than a 100 year GWP) to reflect the near-term timeline on which we must act to reduce emissions. We apply the emissions values from the Carnegie Mellon study to the capacity of the LNG terminals. To convert the GHG estimates to equivalent emissions from coal plants or cars, we used the EPA's GHG Equivalency Calculator.
[i] Based on an analysis of the area within a three mile radius of the proposed LNG site. Air toxics cancer risk and air toxics respiratory hazard index are both health based metrics. Air toxics cancer risk measures lifetime cancer risk from the inhalation of air toxics. Air toxics respiratory hazard index measures the ratio of exposure to air toxics to a health-based reference concentration.