Climate justice advocates on Thursday vowed to fight the U.S. Department of Energy's approval of exports from a proposed liquified natural gas project in Alaska, condemning the initiative as "another carbon bomb" that puts a livable future in jeopardy.
The Alaska LNG Project plans to export up to 20 million metric tons of fracked gas per year starting in 2030. According to the DOE's own environmental impact statement, the project could unleash up to 2.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the course of its lifetime.
That's ten times as much cumulative planet-heating pollution as the Willow oil project rubber-stamped one month ago by the U.S. Interior Department, which has been sued for refusing to use its authority to prevent ConocoPhillips from drilling on federal land.
"Right after the horrific Willow decision, it's painful to see Biden officials greenlight an even bigger fossil fuel project that will destroy Arctic habitat and feed the climate crisis," Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.
Moneen Nasmith, a senior attorney at Earthjustice, added that "this administration cannot continue to approve these fossil fuel projects and say that it is taking the climate crisis seriously."
According toReuters, "Backers of the roughly $39 billion project hope it will be operational by 2030 if it gets investments and all required permits."
The Alaska LNG Project, proposed by the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC), constitutes one of the largest infrastructure endeavors in U.S. history. As Earthjustice explained:
The project involves constructing an 807-mile pipeline that would bisect the state from north to south, spanning a distance roughly the width of Texas. Construction would affect 35,474 acres of land, 45% of which would be permanently affected. "Stranded" gas deposits discovered decades ago in Alaska's Arctic, which would remain in the ground without causing any climate harm if it weren't for this project, would first be extracted and sent to gas treatment facilities operated by AGDC in the Arctic. The gas would then be transported 807 miles south to the Kenai Peninsula via the new pipeline, which would require 489 new roads to construct and maintain. AGDC would also build a liquefaction plant and marine terminal on the eastern shore of the Cook Inlet in Nikiski. The LNG would be transported to Asian markets via Cook Inlet, a sensitive water body that offers critical habitat for endangered beluga whales.
Earthjustice is currently representing a coalition of green groups in challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) 2020 approval of construction on the Alaska LNG Project.
"With DOE and FERC approvals, the Alaska LNG export terminal now has most of the approvals needed for it to move forward. The ultimate fate of the project, however, is far from certain," Earthjustice noted. "The DOE order also grants the Center for Biological Diversity and Cook Inletkeeper leave to intervene, clearing the way for both organizations, along with Sierra Club, to potentially file additional legal challenges to DOE's approval. Earthjustice has represented the Center for Biological Diversity and Cook Inletkeeper to date in Alaska LNG proceedings before DOE."
Erin Colón, an Earthjustice senior attorney who led the FERC litigation, said that "not only is the Alaska LNG Project unnecessary given the widespread transition to clean energy alternatives we expect to see in the years to come, it's also a major threat to ecosystems and climate in Alaska."
"The state's greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels would balloon by nearly 30% over today's levels, in an era where all other states will be scrambling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Colón. "This is also happening in a place that is uniquely impacted by climate change—with sea-ice melt, thawing permafrost, and coastal erosion."
Colón called it "frustrating to see the Department of Energy rubber-stamp a massive fossil fuel infrastructure project of this kind when it clearly conflicts with the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis."
The International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have made clear that fossil fuel expansion is incompatible with averting the worst consequences of the life-threatening planetary emergency. To have a chance at limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, peer-reviewed research shows that no new coal, oil, and gas projects should be greenlighted or financed and existing fossil fuel production must wind down.
According to Earthjustice:
Interest in gas will be waning by 2030, the earliest AGDC could expect to begin exporting LNG. The four countries that DOE assumes would receive gas from the project—Japan, South Korea, China, and India—all have announced plans to expand their renewable energy usage. By the year 2030, the IPCC warned in its Sixth Assessment Report, nations must complete the task of slashing greenhouse gas emissions 50% below preindustrial levels. By the time this project would be built, there may no longer be any demand for it, leaving more stranded fossil fuel infrastructure across the state.
Last year, the U.S. became the world's top LNG exporter. Despite mounting evidence of the deadly toll of fossil fuels, the Biden administration has yet to use its executive authority to cancel nearly two dozen proposed fracked gas export projects that threaten to generate pollution equivalent to roughly 400 new coal-fired power plants.
Instead, the White House has helped Big Oil secure dozens of long-term methane gas export contracts amid Russia's war on Ukraine.
"The proposed Alaska LNG export project would threaten Arctic wildlife and exacerbate the climate crisis by locking in decades of increased gas extraction and exports at a time when the science is clear that we must rapidly transition away from fossil fuels," said Andrea Feniger, director of the Sierra Club's Alaska chapter. "Claiming that a project like this could possibly be in the public interest isn't just out of step with the Biden administration's stated commitment to climate action—it's out of step with reality."
"We will pursue every available avenue to ensure that this ill-advised project is never built," Feniger added.