A new report published Wednesday details how the fossil fuel industry—with assistance from the Biden administration—has taken advantage of Russia's war on Ukraine to secure long-term methane gas export contracts that will lock in years of planet-warming emissions and further pad Big Oil's profits.
Liquefied Natural Cash: How Methane Exports Reverse Climate Progress, Harm Consumers and Endanger Communities, the report highlights the surge of methane gas delivery contracts inked in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, a boom aided in part by the Biden administration's efforts to export more U.S. gas to European allies.
However, the report rejects the notion that soaring U.S. gas exports are primarily dedicated to bolstering "European national security," noting that more than 75% of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) set for export under the recent contracts is "destined for the Asia-Pacific region or Big Oil companies and commodity trading firms making speculative bets."
In total, according to the new analysis from Friends of the Earth, BailoutWatch, and Public Citizen, "the industry finalized 45 long-term deals to send U.S.-produced LNG overseas in the past year, up from 14 in 2021 and three in 2020." The contracts examined in the new report largely range from 15 to 20 years in duration.
"These past-year LNG contracts represent 351 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to the yearly emissions of 94 coal plants or one-third of all U.S. households," the report estimates.
"Oil and gas executives have exploited the Russian invasion of Ukraine to further dependence on planet-destroying fossil fuels and force millions of American households to pay higher bills to heat their homes," said Alan Zibel, an oil and gas researcher with Public Citizen and a co-author of the report. "With European countries showing that they can navigate their short-term energy needs by conserving fuel and promoting renewables, fossil fuel corporations are engaged in a massive and unnecessary buildout of U.S. export infrastructure that will send fuel to Asia for decades and boost prices for American consumers."
"While oil and gas giants are reaping their largest-ever profits," Zibel added, "marginalized communities in Texas and Louisiana are asked to shoulder continued risk from LNG export infrastructure buildout, all in the name of purported European energy security."
Far from being a helpless bystander, the Biden administration has actively assisted the rise in gas shipments overseas by
encouraging exports and—in the words of the new report—"acting as an informal fossil fuel matchmaker, bringing together U.S. exporters with European clients" that have been
wary of long-term contracts due to E.U. climate rules.
The Biden White House has also rejected progressive pressure to ban U.S. gas exports.
Additionally, the new report spotlights the underexamined role played by the U.S. State Department:
Notwithstanding Republican accusations that the Biden administration is hostile to fossil fuels, prominent administration officials are working closely with industry to devise long-term plans for massive LNG exports. A key Biden administration State Department official Amos Hochstein unapologetically argues for using U.S. LNG as a political cudgel.
CNBC in March 2022, he touted how American methane gas exports added to European gas stockpiles in anticipation of the Russian invasion. "We are the largest LNG player in the world, and our role is to support our European allies during this time," said Hochstein, who spent the Trump years working at Tellurian, a LNG company that has struggled to obtain financing. After the invasion, Hochstein helped lead the newly established U.S.-E.U. Energy Security Taskforce. Among its hallmarks: a European commitment to demand at least an additional 50 billion cubic meters of US LNG annually through at least 2030...
The State Department's role in quietly supporting the LNG industry is not well understood, mainly because the agency has resisted disclosing key documents, including Hochstein’s calendar, that
courts already found are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Methane gas export companies Cheniere Energy and Freeport LNG have said publicly that they have participated in a task force meeting, but little else is known.
To limit the damage of rising gas exports and prevent the oil and gas industry from continuing to cement carbon emissions for decades to come, the report calls on the Biden administration to "impose rigorous new standards" on the U.S. Energy Department's process for approving export permits, instruct the U.S. State Department to "cease its advocacy for LNG infrastructure at home and abroad," and oppose Republican efforts to further deregulate gas exports.
"There is no disaster that Big Oil won't stoop to exploiting," said Lukas Ross, a program manager at Friends of the Earth and an author of the report. "LNG exports are a ploy to prolong the era of fossil fuels. If Big Oil's export agenda remains a blindspot for the Biden administration, then the president's climate legacy is at risk."
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the oil export ban that was lifted in 2015.