What Biden’s LNG Pause Does and Doesn’t Do
by Andres Chang
January 26, 2024
Today the Biden-Harris Administration announced a “pause” on new export approvals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, while the Department of Energy (DOE) reviews its LNG export policy. This is a major victory for the climate movement and especially for the frontline communities confronting the fossil fuel industry’s stampede to build more export infrastructure.
What the announcement does…
Pauses all pending decisions to approve LNG projects
Biden’s announcement immediately pauses pending DOE decisions to approve 17 U.S. LNG projects. Some of these projects were already unlikely or dead in the water due to an unrealistic glut of applications that would far exceed actual demand for U.S. gas. Still, the announcement could have major impacts. Just the largest affected terminal, CP2, would produce annual lifecycle emissions of around 176 million tons of CO2e, the same amount as 47 coal-fired power plants. More information on the affected projects is provided below:
- Of the 17 pending applications for U.S. projects, 5 are for projects that were canceled1 or likely canceled, and 2 are for small increases to existing terminals.2
- 3 applications are for large expansions of existing or planned terminals: Port Arthur LNG Phase II (Trains 3 & 4), Corpus Christi Liquefaction Midscale Trains 8 & 9, and Venture Global Plaquemines LNG Design Increase. These expansions could produce annual lifecycle emissions of around 103 to 131 million tCO2e.3
- That leaves 7 major new U.S. export terminals impacted by the policy: Lake Charles Exports (Energy Transfer Lake Charles LNG), New Fortress Energy Louisiana FLNG (Louisiana Fast LNG), Magnolia LNG, Commonwealth LNG, Venture Global CP2 LNG, Gulfstream LNG, and Fourchon LNG. These terminals could produce annual lifecycle emissions of around 565 million tCO2e.
- The announcement may also impact approvals for LNG exports from Mexico that rely on U.S.-produced gas. There are 2 such projects currently pending approval: NFE Altamira FLNG and Mexico Pacific (Saguaro LNG) Limited Phase 1 Expansion, which could together produce annual lifecycle emissions of around 17-67 million tCO2e.4
Opens the door for a rules clarification that protects frontline communities and the climate
During the pause, Biden proposes “a hard look at the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs, America’s energy security, and our environment.” Existing law states that DOE can approve exports to non-free trade amendment countries only when they are in the “public interest”, but DOE has not revisited what it considers to be the “public interest” in decades. It is clear that rubber stamping massive LNG exports is bad for the climate, bad for frontline communities already suffering from high pollution burdens, and likely raises energy prices on American consumers. Any honest review will find LNG exports to be contrary to the public interest, and we now have an opportunity to influence rulemaking around this critical issue.
What’s more, if this pause on export approvals results in a permanent halt to new LNG export projects—as it should— it will also put an end to other major proposed facilities that have not yet applied to DOE. These proposed projects include Venture Global’s Delta LNG and a number of others. This next wave of export terminals could represent combined annual emissions exceeding 340 million tCO2e.5
What it doesn’t do…
Does not impact LNG export projects that are already operating or permitted
This policy does not impact the 7 operating LNG export terminals6, the 5 new projects that are already under construction7, or the 8 additional projects that are awaiting financing but have already obtained their DOE permits8. The 5 under construction projects will by themselves nearly double US LNG export capacity by 2027.
Biden’s policy is a huge victory but it comes after the industry has already rapidly expanded and locked-in massive export infrastructure. The impacted projects have not been built yet, nor would they start operations for many years to come. So, despite industry complaints, this policy will have a negligible impact on LNG shipments to Europe in the near future.
Does not mean that the fight against fossil fuels is over
We still need to move more quickly to phase out fossil fuels, supercharge the rollout of renewables like solar and wind, and increase efforts at energy demand reduction and energy efficiency to meet our climate targets. But the path to decarbonization is clear, and it shows just how preposterous the LNG build-out truly is.
In his announcement Biden said that he will “heed the calls of young people and frontline communities who are using their voices to demand action from those with the power to act.” We will be loud and clear that the “temporary pause” must lead the way to a permanent halt to new LNG projects and a reckoning with the harms from already operating and permitted projects..
Emissions totals were calculated using a combination of project-level emissions estimates from Sierra Club’s US LNG Export Tracker (Lake Charles LNG, Louisiana Fast LNG, Magnolia, Commonwealth, CP2 LNG, Gulfstream LNG, Port Arthur Trains 3 & 4, Corpus Christi Midscale Trains, West Delta LNG, Grand Isle LNG, Delta LNG, Penn LNG, Qilak, Wyalusing, Pointe LNG, and Sabine Pass Stage 5), and Greenpeace USA project-level emissions estimates based on nameplate capacity (Fourchon LNG, Altamira) and marginal peak capacity (Plaquemines Design Increase, and Mexico Pacific (Saguaro LNG) Expansion). Both Greenpeace USA and Sierra Club emissions estimates use a lifecycle emissions factor for LNG with a 20-year global warming potential for methane. The EPA’s GHG Equivalency Calculator was used to convert the CP2 GHG estimate to equivalent emissions from coal-fired power plants.
- CE FLNG, MPEH (Main Pass Energy Hub), Eos LNG, Barca LNG, and SCT&E LNG (Monkey Island LNG)..
- Elba Island Optimization Project and Calcasieu Pass Design Increase
- This range reflects uncertainty regarding the emissions impact of the Mexico Pacific (Saguaro LNG) Expansion, which would increase peak capacity without adding to nameplate capacity. As with the Plaquemines LNG Design Increase, the lower bounds assume that the project will result in no additional emissions, whereas the higher bounds assume that marginal peak capacity will be fully utilized.
- This total includes estimated emissions from Venture Global’s Delta LNG, Grand Isle LNG, West Delta LNG, Penn LNG, Qilak, Wyalusing, Pointe LNG, and Sabine Pass Stage
- Sabine Pass (Trains 1-6), Corpus Christi (Trains 1-3), Freeport LNG (Trains 1-3), Cameron LNG (Trains 1-3), Cove Point, Elba Island (excluding Optimization Project), and Venture Global Calcasieu Pass (excluding Design Increase).
- Corpus Christi (Trains 4-11), Golden Pass, Venture Global Plaquemines (excluding Design Increase), Port Arthur (Trains 1 & 2), and Rio Grande LNG.
- Freeport LNG (Train 4), Cameron LNG (Train 4), Driftwood LNG, Texas LNG, Eagle LNG, Delfin LNG, Alaska Gasline, Gulf LNG