Pausing LNG export approvals will carry long-term risks for our allies and ability to meet global climate goals

The Biden Administration’s pause on LNG exports will place our allies at the mercy of authoritarian regimes and won’t advance the fight against climate change

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has paused approvals of liquified natural gas (LNG) export facilities, injecting insecurity into global energy markets and jeopardizing the goals of the landmark COP28 climate agreement signed in December. That agreement recognized that natural gas is essential to the worldwide energy transition by providing a cleaner fuel source than coal while providing critical energy security.  

Unfortunately, this decision is not based on science and will have unintended impacts on the climate. It will also cut off our allies as they seek secure, less carbon-intensive energy sources to keep their lights on. The Washington Post Editorial Board sees this decision for what it is, "It's an election-year sop to climate activists that will do much more to unsettle vital US alliances than to save the planet." 

Pausing LNG exports will resurface global energy insecurity 

The rise of global instability in recent years has shown that the world lacks sufficient access to reliable, affordable, and cleaner sources that can adequately replace coal power generation, the largest source of power-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If we restrict our gas exports, we'll leave our allies vulnerable to dirtier forms of energy, such as coal, and to many of the worst actors on the world stage.  

Two-thirds of the world's economically recoverable gas is in just four countries: Russia, Iran, Qatar, and the U.S. When Russia weaponized its reserves after invading Ukraine – beginning with cutting off its gas supply to Europe – the U.S. quickly stepped forward and supplied LNG to replace methane-intensive Russian gas. This support to our allies accounted for 40% of EU LNG imports in 2022. The New York Times reported that European allies are worried that this decision can undermine their progress to wean themselves off Russian gas.  

The Biden Administration's pause on LNG exports has the potential to resurface the kind of global energy instability we saw following the war in Ukraine. If we restrict our gas exports, our allies will be at the mercy of authoritarian regimes like Putin's.  

Increasing LNG exports helps keep energy prices low at home and abroad 

PAGE and its members share the DOE's goal of ensuring affordable and stable energy prices for Americans. However, the pause of LNG exports could devastate the buildout of much-needed infrastructure to ensure Americans have reliable access to energy.  

The conjecture that LNG exports drive up US energy prices is also inaccurate. According to the Center for Strategic and International Affairs (CSIS),increased U.S. LNG exports have not affected energy prices at home over the past five years.  

LNG can help phase out foreign coal and achieve our climate goals 

U.S. LNG also helped stabilize gas and electricity prices for customers in Europe. A pause or restriction of U.S. LNG capabilities risks destabilizing gas markets in Europe and beyond, undoing years of responsible energy policy.  

Halting LNG exports will likely result in a continued increase in foreign coal. In 2021, coal accounted for 44% of emissions from fuel combustion while only comprising 27% of the total energy supply. By comparison, gas' share (22%) was lower than its supply (24%). 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) also reports that coal production is responsible for more methane than gas. Chinese coal production alone emits 15% of the world's energy-sector methane. This dwarfs LNG liquefaction and shipping methane emissions, which comprise just 0.3%. Meanwhile, Germany and other EU members have activated once-dormant coal plants to ensure their economies have enough energy to support their citizens during peak demand this winter. 

The pause of LNG exports will only exacerbate this trend and likely make achieving the targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement unfeasible.  

The Bottom Line 

Energy security, cost, and climate action are all critical factors for achieving a sustainable global energy transition. Meeting a strict regulatory process and being produced and transported by responsible companies, U.S. natural gas is the only pragmatic solution to stabilize the energy landscape.  

The Partnership to Address Global Emissions (PAGE) strongly opposes the Biden Administration's unfortunate decision and vows to continue fighting for responsible energy policies that protect national security and advance climate solutions.  

Obama-era Energy Secretary: Natural gas is the ‘logical’ global energy transition plan

COP28 wrapped up in Dubai, burdened by an undeniable truth: the world is still not on pace to successfully limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Fortunately, world leaders were open to pragmatic solutions and recognized that natural gas has a role in achieving the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. Among those proponents was Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who said natural gas is the "logical" clean energy transition plan.  

While some advocates have argued that renewables are the only solution for reducing emissions, the fact remains that they currently cannot generate the baseload energy that we need. As long as battery storage and transmission infrastructure challenges remain, renewables will remain a part of the solution, not the whole solution. 

"If the world's top 5% worst emitting coal-power plants switched to natural gas, it would reduce global power sector emissions by 30%."

At COP28, world leaders recognized that natural gas and renewables must complement each other to maintain energy security while working to transition to renewables and continue to provide the public with clean, affordable and reliable energy.  

Coal-to-Gas Switching at Home

The US has provided a model showing that low-carbon natural gas is a pivotal part of the global energy transition. This strategy involves expanding natural gas production while simultaneously phasing out coal power plants. The environmental benefits are clear – natural gas produces half the amount of CO2 per unit of energy than coal does when burned, making it an ideal near-term energy solution. 

The results have been exceptional over the last two decades, with the US achieving a historic 17% decline in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by switching from coal to natural gas while producing unprecedented cost savings for consumers. 

Furthermore, 65% of all US power generation emissions reductions over the last 15 years were driven by coal-to-gas switching. While this solution has led to significant emissions reductions at home, we need to look beyond our borders and export liquified natural gas (LNG) so we can replace the dirtiest coal-fired power plants worldwide. 

Export LNG to Reduce Emissions on a Global Scale

The need for cleaner natural gas on a global scale has never been more critical. Global coal consumption reached a new all-time high in 2022, increasing by 3.3% to 8.3 billion tons. 

Coal consumption is also responsible for about 40% of global GHG emissions, and supply chain and geopolitical challenges caused demand to increase by approximately 1.5% in the first half of 2023. Europe's energy crisis showed that countries are willing to revert to higher-emitting sources at the expense of cleaner options to stabilize energy flows. 

Remarkably, if the world's top 5% worst emitting coal-power plants switched to natural gas, it would reduce global power sector emissions by 30%. If that switch incorporates carbon capture and storage, this reduction would increase to nearly 50%.

Taking on Methane Emissions

Coal-to-gas switching would also put a significant dent in global methane emissions. According to Paul Bledsoe of the Progressive Policy Institute, "limiting methane will reduce near-term temperatures far more than any other action." 

Methane reduction is critical in countries like China, the world's largest coal producer, whose coal mines are responsible for over 15% of global energy sector methane emissions. Dirty plants like these must be replaced with a low-carbon alternative, and natural gas is the ideal solution. 

The good news is that the US natural gas industry is serious about reducing methane emissions and recognizes that this will further unlock natural gas's potential as a global climate solution. 

At COP28, 50 energy companies, including a Partnership to Address Global Emissions member, signed onto the Oil and Gas Decarbonization Charter to push methane abatement and other emissions reduction efforts across the industry. Alan Armstrong, CEO and President of Williams, said his company is "rapidly going after methane," having reduced its methane emissions by 16.5% in 2022.

The Missing Link: Reforming US Permitting Policies

For far too long, energy companies were excluded from conversations about solutions to address climate change. But COP28 gave the industry a seat at the table, allowing an opportunity to highlight the logic behind natural gas – it is the key to a successful global energy transition AND energy security. 

We must harness this momentum and urge policymakers in Washington to back permitting reform and expedite the approval process for long-awaited pipeline infrastructure. 

The US has the resources and can export enough LNG to the rest of the world to make achieving the Paris climate agreement a reality.

COP28: An opportunity to harness the capabilities of clean natural gas

The annual UN Climate Change Conference, or COP28, will commence November 30 – December 12 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. As the world's largest climate change conference, business and government leaders will convene to discuss progress towards achieving the Paris Climate Agreement

While progress has been made in some countries, we are not currently on track to achieve our global emissions goals. According to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) updated Net Zero Roadmap, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the energy sector reached an all-time high of 37 billion tons in 2022, 1% above their pre-pandemic level. 

While various factors are to blame, a record-setting 3.3% increase in global coal consumption has perpetuated the rise of hazardous emissions. 

At COP28, the key message must be conveyed: natural gas is a cleaner and more reliable alternative to coal.

To reach the Paris Agreement's target to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, emissions need to peak before 2025 and be reduced by around 43% by 2030. That leaves a short window of opportunity that cannot be achieved without substantive policy redirection.  

However, there is a straightforward solution to this challenge – exporting US natural gas can help phase out global coal and drastically reduce emissions. This solution, proven in the US, should play a central role in the worldwide conversation at COP28.  

A breakthrough opportunity for the energy industry 

In COP's brief history, energy companies have not been included in conversations about solutions to address climate change. But with this year's conference taking place in a major energy-producing region, the industry has an unprecedented opportunity to help advance a low-carbon future. 

Sasha Mackler, Executive Director of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Energy Program, agreed that this will likely "lead to some quite dynamic discussion and hopefully some new shared understanding of how the oil and gas industry can be part of the solution when it comes to driving a net zero economy by mid-century." 

The good news is the US natural gas industry is already taking critical steps to produce cleaner and more reliable energy.

For the natural gas industry, this means leading conversations about how LNG is not only part of the clean energy future but is critical to its success.  

Clean LNG on the world stage 

At COP28, the key message must be conveyed: natural gas is a cleaner and more reliable alternative to coal. 

Coal consumption is responsible for about 40% of global GHG emissions, and supply chain and geopolitical challenges have caused coal demand to grow by approximately 1.5% in the first half of 2023. China and India have had the most significant increase in coal use, which will account for 70% of the world's total consumption this year.  

Meanwhile, the US is producing far less coal and is substantially reducing its emissions. Since 2005, the US has experienced a remarkable 17% decline in GHG emissions by switching from coal to natural gas. 

The US must move quickly to deploy natural gas to our allies to reduce coal dependency and lower global emissions. According to Naomi L. Boness, Managing Director of the Stanford Natural Gas and Hydrogen Initiatives, natural gas is critical "both to meeting energy security needs around the world [and replacing] the increased use of coal in places like India and China." 

The good news is the US natural gas industry is already taking critical steps to produce cleaner and more reliable energy. 

This includes methane abatement, which Paul Bledsoe of the Progressive Policy Institute says is essential in "limiting near-term temperature increases that are causing devastating climate change impacts around the world." 

US LNG is also far cleaner and less methane-intensive than notoriously leaky natural gas from countries like Russia.  

We need to harness the capabilities of natural gas 

While the US has a plentiful supply of natural gas, more infrastructure is needed to ensure our ability to meet demand overseas. The rise of coal production worldwide shows what happens when the US cannot export enough clean and reliable energy. 

Global energy security and climate change are on the line, so at COP28, US policymakers must advocate for the export of US natural gas to replace coal and finally prioritize permitting reform at home so we can unleash LNG. 

"You actually need adults in the room," says Alex Herrgott, President & CEO of the Permitting Institute. "COP28 needs to be about the practicality of how we harness the technology and capabilities of natural gas to solve the real problems of today."