Federal environmental reports favor natural gas exports

The Department of Energy (DOE) released two reports Thursday with favorable conclusions about the environmental impacts of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The department said it is not “reasonably foreseeable” that there would be any domestic environmental impacts from the increased natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And in Europe and Asia, the natural gas would have much lower greenhouse gas emissions than coal when used for power generation.

The DOE is publishing the reports to gather comments on them and eventually use them in determining whether individual LNG export applications are in the country’s interest. Neither report is required by law, the agency said.

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The reports came the same day the DOE proposed a new, streamlined process for considering applications to export LNG to countries with which the United States does not have a free trade agreement.

In the first report, the DOE said exporting more natural gas will likely increase the demand for it and might accelerate environmental impacts. But those environmental impacts would probably happen whether or not exports are prohibited.

“While DOE has made broad projections about the types of resources from which additional production may come, DOE cannot meaningfully estimate where, when, or by what method any additional natural gas would be produced,” the department said. “Therefore, DOE cannot meaningfully analyze the specific environmental impacts of such production, which are nearly all local or regional in nature.”

In its report on Europe and Asia, the agency modeled the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from transporting natural gas to each country and using it for power generation, and compared it to using local coal.

“For most scenarios in both the European and Asian regions, the generation of power from imported natural gas has lower life cycle GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions than power generation from regional coal,” the DOE said.

For both fuel sources, the DOE included extraction, processing, transportation, power plant operations and other steps of the process.

The department also announced Thursday that it would start a new study into the economic impacts of increased LNG exports. It would be an update to a 2012 study that found that if the United States exports too much of the fuel, it could increase domestic prices.