The world has reached a critical inflection point. We need to rapidly lower global carbon emissions while providing secure energy for our European allies who are contending with the effects of the Ukraine War. The good news is that the US has the necessary resources to meet both crises by exporting cleaner liquid natural gas (LNG).
The bad news is that while US resources are plentiful, the country cannot export as much liquid natural gas (LNG) as needed because of inadequate infrastructure to support overseas shipments. However, a solution on the horizon is being debated in Washington right now.
The Potential for Growing LNG Exports
US natural gas production has been surging for nearly two decades thanks to technological advances, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking, and increasing demand for a cheaper fuel that is much cleaner than burning coal. Over that period, the US has achieved a historical 17% decline in US greenhouse gas emissions by switching from coal to natural gas while providing unprecedented cost savings for consumers.
Conversely, the Ukraine war has recently set our European allies back from meeting their climate goals as Russia cut off natural gas supplies, and their coal use has surged. To help the EU get back on track, the Partnership to Address Global Emissions (PAGE) recently met with European leaders to discuss solutions to fast-track the replacement of coal with lower-emitting US natural gas and help provide energy security to the continent.
As Ambassador Richard Morningstar, Founding Chairman of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, puts it, "The administration needs to clearly articulate the role of responsibly produced gas as an enabler of the green transition and its long-term importance in global decarbonization and energy security efforts. "
What is Holding the US Back?
The root of the problem is a need for sufficient infrastructure capacity to maximize our resources and meet consumers' energy needs. Ultimately, the US must prioritize expanding natural gas infrastructure, pipelines, and export terminals to help ensure more affordable, reliable, and low-methane gas production and delivery.
Currently, the US natural gas pipeline network stretches across approximately 3 million miles of terrain, and as of 2021, it delivers about 27.6 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas to about 77.7 million consumers. This amount efficiently supplies consumers with natural gas, and pipelines are also the safest interstate transportation method compared to other delivery modes such as rail, barge, and truck.
Unfortunately, this pipeline network cannot adequately support today's demand for natural gas.
Between 2010 and 2022, demand for US natural gas increased by 56%. By comparison, US pipeline capacity has grown by just 27%, while our capacity to store LNG has risen by only 12%.
To make matters worse, the US is seeing its smallest interstate natural gas pipeline capacity increase in over two decades. In 2022, there was an increase of just 897 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d), as opposed to 2017, which experienced a record increase of 28,040 MMCf/d.
Without infrastructure development, we cannot export enough LNG to our allies to replace coal and methane-heavy gas usage from countries like Russia. Our inability to provide a cleaner energy alternative to heavy-emitting regions means a critical need exists to stabilize the energy crisis.
We saw the consequences of this in Europe last year, where countries increased coal production and imported more Russian LNG to meet their energy needs. This matter perpetuated both global energy insecurity and climate change.
Improving and Redeveloping Our Infrastructure
Fortunately, there are clear steps the US can take to grow our current infrastructure and ultimately boost LNG exports. As a first step, we must expand East Coast infrastructure specifically. Appalachia is home to some of North America's most prolific and low-cost gas resources.
A more significant investment into this region can dramatically help reduce consumer prices and make natural gas a more reliable and affordable energy source.
In addition, we need to build more pipelines that strategically access historically undersupplied demand centers. We saw a need for this in 2018, when a "bomb cyclone" caused US prices to soar due to insufficient gas supply, requiring the importation of Russian LNG. We could have resolved this matter at much less cost through greater access to Appalachia rather than notoriously methane-leaky Russian gas.
By improving and redeveloping our natural gas infrastructure, we can ensure that we can provide more affordable, reliable, and cleaner gas to our allies and here at home for generations to come.
We Need Washington to Act
While there are investments the natural gas industry can make, the truth is that we also need policymakers in Washington to back permitting reform so we can turn this vision into reality. Energy projects can take years to receive approval, and endless lawsuits further delay and sometimes halt critical pipeline development.
The lack of access to a stable energy source is causing our allies to revert to coal and methane-heavy gas, making it virtually impossible to achieve our global climate goals. It's in Congress' hands – providing a pathway for cleaner fuel sources, like low-emissions natural gas, in place of dirtier forms of energy will help address the climate crisis and restore energy security.