Europe’s Search For Natural Gas Runs Headlong Into Its Climate Goals

lng terminal german

lng terminal german

Europe’s scramble to replace Russian natural gas has set in motion plans for new gas production and infrastructure worldwide that critics say risk throwing the world off track in meeting the Paris accord’s climate targets.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is moving quickly to set up new import terminals for liquefied natural gas from elsewhere. [bold, links added]

U.S. producers are expanding their export facilities as Europe’s thirst for gas adds to already-strong Asian demand.

Such infrastructure can take years to build and is usually predicated on lifespans lasting decades. European utilities, meanwhile, are negotiating long-term supply deals with gas exporters in the U.S., the Middle East, and Africa.

Both moves threaten to lock Europe into a new dependency on non-Russian gas at a time when the West has promised to start pivoting from hydrocarbons to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists say are causing the Earth to warm.

“This push for gas is much, much bigger than replacing Russian gas,” said Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics, a nonpartisan climate-science group. “That risks a lock-in of very high levels of carbon dioxide emissions.”

Democratic members of Congress including Senators Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and lawmakers from the European Parliament wrote in a joint letter last month that “further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the United States and Europe is destined to set us back during a moment when we should be doing everything within our power to avert climate catastrophe.”

For many capitals, the urgent need to find enough supplies to replace Russian gas is outweighing longer-term goals to slash emissions.

Gas from Russia, Europe’s biggest supplier, heats homes and powers factories across the continent.

European officials have emphasized gas as a transitional fuel: not ideal, but better than higher-emitting fuels such as coal. Burning natural gas produces around half the carbon dioxide of coal.

The European Union is aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 14% by 2030 compared with 2020 by massively expanding wind and solar power and using energy more efficiently.

Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Austria have all said they are now preparing to burn more coal in the next few years after Russia throttled gas supplies to the continent last week.

And Europe is doubling down on gas from other parts of the world.

Plans for more than 20 liquefied natural gas import projects have been announced, relaunched, or sped up across Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine, according to a recent analysis by FTI Consulting.

Analysts said those projects have the potential to contribute an additional 128 billion cubic meters in natural-gas import capacity over the coming years, roughly the equivalent of 83% of the EU’s total 2021 imports from Russia.

Germany, which didn’t have any LNG import terminals before the war in Ukraine began, is taking some of the most aggressive steps to develop new infrastructure.

The German government recently passed legislation to fast-track LNG developments, and pledged 2.94 billion euros, equivalent to about $3.09 billion, to put several floating terminals into operation.

The French utility Engie SA in May announced a 15-year contract to buy LNG from an export facility under construction in Brownsville, Texas.

That came a year-and-a-half after the company pulled out of talks to buy gas from the project under pressure from environmentalists and the French government.

It also recently struck a deal with Cheniere Energy Inc. for increased gas deliveries that would continue beyond 2040. A separate 15-year deal between Cheniere and Norway’s Equinor ASA was announced earlier this month, with deliveries to begin in 2026.

European officials and industry executives say that new LNG import terminals and other gas infrastructure can eventually be converted to handle hydrogen, clean-burning fuel that can be produced using renewable energy.

That, backers say, means building the infrastructure now doesn’t necessarily lock the continent into using more gas for years to come.

“We are firm believers that natural gas and LNG, done the right way, is an enabling partner to renewables,” said Anatol Feygin, the chief commercial officer of Cheniere, which owns LNG export facilities in Texas and Louisiana. “We think that’ll be the case for decades to come.”

European officials are also fanning out to ask for gas from countries with untapped reserves. Critics say that could encourage production that might otherwise never get developed.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz traveled to Senegal in May and said his government was interested in helping the West African nation develop its offshore natural gas reserves.

Italian officials have signed deals with Angola and Congo to boost gas supplies. The EU announced plans to work with Israel and Egypt to increase exports of natural gas to the bloc.

Climate scientists warn that the world has little leeway to produce and burn more gas while at the same time complying with the Paris accord.

Most of the world’s countries have agreed to the deal, which calls for governments to collectively reduce emissions to levels that scientists hope will limit warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The latest United Nations climate science report estimates that global gas use in electricity and heating should fall 10% by 2030 compared with 2020 and 45% by 2050 to meet the 1.5-degree target.

LNG poses a double challenge. It is natural gas that has been supercooled so it can be transported as a liquid across long distances.

It is turned back into gas after it arrives at LNG import facilities. Tankers that transport it can be big emitters of methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—adding to overall emissions related to the fuel.

Read more at WSJ

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