Earlier this month, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility near the Columbia River at Plymouth, Washington exploded, injuring workers and forcing the evacuation of 400 residents and agricultural workers within a two-mile radius. The incident was a grim reminder of the dangers facing communities where gas development occurs. Meanwhile, many members of Congress are using the crisis in Ukraine to justify expediting exports of LNG, a move at odds with the safety and wellbeing of American communities, particularly in light of the explosion in Washington. Congress needs to stand up for Americans, not the oil and gas industry, and reject all plans to fast track LNG exports.
Bills by Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallEnergy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Two vulnerable senators lack challengers for 2016 MORE (D-Colo.) and Rep. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.) would expedite exports of LNG, and a bill introduced by Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiConservation program at center of energy bill fight Senators float bipartisan wildfire bill Overnight Energy: Lawmakers closing in on chemical safety deal MORE (R-Alaska) that also contains provisions for the Keystone XL pipeline, another controversial fossil fuels project, would envision the same end game. Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (D-La.), presiding over her first meeting as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently came out full-force in favor of exports too.
For years, the oil and gas industry has used its considerable wealth to affect legislation in Congress. In 2010, it spent over $145 million lobbying in Washington, making it one of the top five industries spending big money to buy influence.
The Obama administration has given initial approval for seven LNG export facilities, including the Cove Point facility in Calvert County, Maryland, about 50 miles from Washington, D.C., which could present a significant national security risk. The push to export LNG clearly did not originate with the crisis in Ukraine – tensions overseas simply created fresh context. Nor does the situation between Ukraine and Russia justify LNG exports, particularly because much of the fracked gas sent overseas would serve Asian markets, where industry could fetch a higher price.
Even if LNG exports are fast tracked, very little infrastructure exists to support them, and won’t until at least 2016. Building the infrastructure necessary to support exports will also require significant economic investment, making them a risky, expensive and impractical investment.
Moreover, fracking, the process through which LNG would be obtained, carries significant environmental risks. In addition to polluting air and water resources, the process also releases methane into the atmosphere. A potent greenhouse gas, methane is at least 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100-year time frame, and causes between 79 to 105 times the climate forcing of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.
The International Panel on Climate Change recently highlighted the dire consequences of what’s to come from climate change if action is not taken to alleviate it. Climate scientists warn that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground and aggressively transition to renewable energy to avert climate catastrophe.
Last month, thirty Senate Democrats, members of the "climate caucus," stayed up all night on the Senate floor to speak out about climate change. This was an important moment to highlight the most critical environmental issue of our time, and one that we hope foreshadows Congress taking steps to help deploy truly renewable resources like wind and solar power.
Oil and gas industry rhetoric concerning gas has already given Americans a false sense of energy security. Even assuming that the industry’s dream of unrestricted drilling and fracking comes true, plans to increase the rate of consumption in the U.S. means that we will only have about 50 years of gas at our fingertips. In many of our lifetimes, this resource will run out. Exporting it overseas will further cut into the supply, while contradicting claims of energy security.
Thousands of miles away from fracking operations and LNG facilities, it’s easy for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to forget about the effects that gas development imposes on communities. But the industrialization, public health, economic and environmental problems that fracking and LNG processing facilities create for rural and urban communities alike are real, and increasing demand for fracked gas will only exacerbate them further.
Last month, over 200 organizations urged President Obama and Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryFive things Clinton needs to do to win the California primary An all-female ticket? Not in 2016 GOP senator calls for China to crack down on illegal opioid MORE to reject plans to export LNG overseas. It’s time to heed their call. This is a pivotal moment for America. Members of Congress should consider their legacies – do they want to go down in history as parties complicit in the slow and devastating destruction of our nation, or will they stand up for their true constituents – the American people?
Hauter is executive director of Food & Water Watch, a national non-profit advocacy organization.