EU lawmakers to Biden: We don’t need more US natural gas

Big oil is trying to make Europe “the excuse” for an unnecessary and planet-heating expansion in gas exports, 60 members of the European Parliament wrote in a Tuesday letter to President Biden.

The letter from largely left-leaning members followed unverified reporting from The New York Times that the Biden administration is considering a pause on new gas export terminals until it can determine whether they are in the national interest — something dozens of Democratic lawmakers have called for.

“Europe should not be used as an excuse to expand [liquified natural gas, or LNG] exports that threaten our shared climate and have dire impacts on US communities,” the European members wrote.

Legislators on both sides of the Atlantic have been sharply critical of proposals to build dozens of new terminals to compress and liquify natural gas (LNG), allowing fossil fuel companies facing low prices in glutted U.S. markets to access higher returns overseas.

Fossil fuel trade groups like the American Petroleum Institute have argued these gas exports are essential in national security terms, and that a surge in LNG exports “provides supply options for America’s allies — most notably to the European Union amid Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”

However, a report by Public Citizen and two environmental NGOs found that less than a fifth of exports from eight such proposed terminals were going to Europe — while more than half of the exports were going to commodity traders, who would flip it to sell to whoever can pay most.

While the European lawmakers expressed gratitude for U.S. gas exports to help replace Russian gas in the winter after Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, they argued the need has now passed — and a new danger is in sight.

“Europe’s current consumption of fossil gas is already being met under current import levels and with existing infrastructure,” they wrote, noting 40 percent of European gas import capacity currently sits idle.

“There is likely no infrastructure bottleneck impeding more U.S. LNG from reaching EU markets, and that an LNG facility build-out in the US would be even less needed.”

That’s particularly true because Europe’s own need for gas is “structurally” declining, they wrote. According to data from the International Energy Agency, Europe will need a fifth less gas in 2026 than it did in 2021, before the Ukraine war began.

Democrats in the U.S. argue the gas industry is seeking foreign markets because of the coming decline in national gas consumption.

While many utilities in the Southeastern U.S. are clamoring for new gas plants, increasing amounts of U.S. gas are going overseas: nearly 7 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2022 — a record sum that made up about 20 percent of total production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The administration, which is typically bullish on fossil fuels, projects that exports will rise to about 10 trillion cubic feet by 2050 — meaning U.S. fossil fuel production will keep rising even as Americans use less.

In climate terms, groups like API justify this build-out because once it reaches a power plant, gas burns relatively cleaner than coal.

But it only takes a small number of leaks in the notoriously leaky gas supply chain for that fuel — which is itself a potent climate pollutant even before it is burned — to warm the climate more than the coal it is ostensibly displacing, according to research in Science and Environmental Research Letters.

Europe’s transition to an economy that doesn’t heat the planet “will only be held back by the construction of new LNG export facilities in the US and import facilities in Europe,” which they argued would serve only to “lock-in” unneeded gas resources.

“We know that ongoing dependence on fossil gas, no matter where it comes from, is not in the best interest of the European Union and we are confident you will come to the same conclusion in the United States,” they added.

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