Saturday, June 22, 2024

Climate report labels planned $1 trillion LNG infrastructure expansion as ‘one way ticket to stranded assets’

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A report by Sacramento-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Earth Insight has highlighted that the global plan to spend over $1 trillion on new liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure could have many negative consequences, especially for the world’s oceans, and slow down the net-zero agenda.

Global heatmap of proposed LNG expansion; Source: Earth Insight

According to the NGO’s latest report, ‘Anything But Natural: Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Infrastructure Expansion Threats to Coastal & Marine Ecosystems’, the new LNG infrastructure could threaten fisheries, human health, ecosystems, and the global climate, while the investment of this scale risks locking the world in a fossil fuel economy.

The expansion is believed to contradict the net-zero plans, making the 1.5-degree ambition by 2050 difficult to achieve. Building expensive infrastructure that can operate for decades means that the transition to renewable energy required to avoid the consequences of climate change cannot be implemented quickly, the group states.

Elissama Menezes, Say No to LNG Global Director, remarked: “The new report ‘’Anything But Natural: Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Infrastructure Expansion Threats to Coastal & Marine Ecosystems’ reveals the stark reality that LNG — often touted as a cleaner marine fuel — is far from the panacea it’s made out to be.”

LNG is mostly composed of methane gas. If cooled, the gas becomes liquid, enabling its storage and transport by sea using tankers to a location where it can be regasified and used. While methane produces less carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels when burned, it is still a greenhouse gas, believed to be responsible for almost a third of today’s global warming.

Furthermore, LNG for export is often transported via LNG-fuelled ships, directly contributing to methane emissions and slip. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), 82% of methane emissions from international shipping in 2021 were caused by liquefied gas tankers.

Instead of short-term solutions directly affecting marine animals and coastal communities, the report proposes channeling economic resources toward renewables and long-term solutions. 

Earth Insight’s Executive Director, Tyson Miller, noted: “Investing in LNG infrastructure — especially in some of the world’s most important nurseries of marine life — just doesn’t make any sense. At this point in the energy transition and nature crisis, it’s a one way ticket to stranded assets and won’t help us solve the climate crisis.”

Regional spotlights around the globe

The report identified and mapped several major issues worldwide. In the United States, more than 20 planned LNG developments along the Gulf Coast are expected to disproportionately impact communities of color in some of the poorer states, such as Mississippi and Louisiana. 

These communities already experience poor air quality from operating LNG facilities and are regularly struck by climate change-fueled disasters, such as hurricanes and storms. While activists are waging legal battles to stop further drilling, new projects are still underway, such as Gulfstream LNG, Galveston LNG bunker port, and Texas LNG.

On North America’s other coast, Mexico’s Gulf of California is said to be in danger due to new LNG infrastructure. Called ‘the world’s aquarium,’ the gulf is described as home to 40% of all marine mammals and many endangered species. If current plans come to fruition, eight new terminals will be built in the region, ramping up its LNG capacity by 460%. 

Moving on to South America, new LNG terminals are planned along Brazil’s Atlantic coast, a region already filled with oil and gas infrastructure. This is anticipated to affect the whale population, as the new developments interfere with their breeding grounds and migration routes. The country’s Barcarena LNG terminal welcomed the floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) Energos Celsius a few months ago.

In Africa, gas developments in Mozambique and East Africa are thought to be responsible for the forced displacement of local communities. Furthermore, new plans threaten not only several critically endangered marine species but also mangroves and coral reefs.

Anabela Lemos of Justiça Ambiental!/Friends of the Earth Mozambique underscores the socio-economic impact of forced displacement of communities for gas development, which she believes is a contributing factor in youth disenfranchisement, fuelling the violence in the region.

“The damage to seagrass beds, mangroves and coral reefs will impact on the success of many valuable species, including whales and dolphins, turtles, dugongs, and marine species that are important food sources for coastal communities. These systems are also valuable protection against severe weather events, which are noticeably more frequent and destructive.”

Gas from the Rovuma supergiant gas basin in Mozambique supplies the operational Coral Sul FLNG, which ADNOC recently bought a stake in, alongside the planned Coral North FLNG development, and the Rovuma LNG onshore facilities.

When it comes to the Pacific Ocean, building new LNG terminals in the Philippines is anticipated to add more pressure to the Verde Island Passage, one of the world’s most biodiverse marine places. Often called ‘the Amazon of the Oceans,’ this is already one of the world’s busiest marine routes which experienced an oil spill in 2023.

Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) and Co-Convenor of Protect Verde Island Passage, Gerry Arances, said: “For a country that has so much renewable energy it could instead be developing, LNG is an unnecessary and detrimental distraction that only exacerbates our climate vulnerabilities. We need to be advancing real climate solutions and biodiversity protection, and not locking in more fossil fuel expansion.”

There are currently two active LNG import terminals in the Philippines. The country, which received its first LNG shipment last April, recently welcomed its fourth shipment of natural gas.

Four additional LNG import terminals are planned, amplifying the region’s LNG capacity by over five times. The build-out is expected to cause an increase in shipping intensity, a higher risk of spills, and more marine and air pollution. 

As the last ten years have been called the ocean’s warmest since at least the 1800s, with 2023 being the hottest year on record according to NASA, marine heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense worldwide, while coral bleaching is destroying reefs and the natural life they support.

According to Earth Insight, new LNG facilities will increase shipping intensity and noise pollution in marine migration corridors, causing displacement of animals from their habitats, thus, disrupting ecological chains, and impacting fisheries.

Still, the era of fossil fuels is nowhere close to being over due to concerns regarding energy security amid a rise in demand. Not only is the world not moving away from them, but a recent report found that global banks contributed $3.3 trillion to fossil fuel expansion over eight years.

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