Surprise, Surprise: Energy Department LNG Export Study Draft Ignores Climate Change

By Sharon Kelly, an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Prior to beginning freelance writing, she worked as a law clerk for the ACLU of Delaware. Originally published at DeSmogBlog.

The Department of Energy (DOE) missed the mark in its newly published draft Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) study, ignoring economic costs associated with climate change and the growth of the renewable energy industry, dozens of national and grassroots environmental groups said in public comments filed with the DOE on Friday.

In June, the DOE published a draft study that predicted expanding LNG exports worldwide could double American natural gas prices by 2040 — but that would carry relatively limited costs to the overall economy.

“The draft study is deeply flawed, as the authors chose to ignore both climate science and climate action in favor of what appears to be a political imperative over any objective analysis,” Lorne Stockman, Senior Research Analyst with Oil Change International and lead author of the comments said in a statement. “In my experience, this would not stand up to peer review in any academic institution.”

The new comments come the day after DOE Secretary Rick Perry arrived at a ribbon cutting for the Cove Point LNG export facility, now the second in the U.S., where he touted exports of more American fossil fuel to Europe and elsewhere. “We’re now exporting natural gas to 30 nations,” Perry said via Twitter.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration also finalized rules that would speed up approvals for “small-scale” LNG projects that would ship American fossil fuel to countries that haven’t signed free trade agreements with the >U.S. The new rules, slated to go into effect on August 25, allow the DOE to skip a “public interest review,” replacing that process with the presumption that small export facilites are a postitive for the U.S.

As the shale gas rush has flooded American markets with cheap fracked gas, the U.S. has switched from building LNG< import terminals to terminals for exporting super-chilled methane via ocean tanker. In 2016, the U.S. exported 0.5 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of gas per day; last year that figure nearly quadrupled to 1.94 Bcf.

Many more LNG export projects are underway, with the DOEcurrently considering 25 projects that combined would raise exports to a staggering 21.35 Bcf per day.

That volume is so high that the DOE found it necessary to produce a study assessing the impacts of greenlighting those export projects could be on both America’s gas markets and the nation’s overall economy.

The DOE’s 144-page draft study, entitled Macroeconomic Outcomes of Market Determined Levels of U.S.LNG Exports, is focused on the years 2020 to 2050 and lays out a range of different export possibilities over those three decades. It describes 54 different scenarios, assigns each a probability, and concludes that it’s most likely that LNG< exports wouldn’t cause US natural gas prices to rise over roughly $5 to $6.50/mcf in 2040 (more than double the current low domestic prices, but far shy of the over $10/mcf prices at the dawn of the shale gas rush).

The study, drafted by NERA Economic Consulting for the DOE, also claims that the hit to the overall economy from higher gas prices will be offset by increased gas production (and therefore, presumably, the expansion of fracking and other environmentally destructive practices) and international trade benefits.

“For policymakers who are on the fence on whether or not capping LNG exports is a good policy objective, this will tell them it shouldn’t be a priority,” Katie Bays, an analyst at Height Capital Markets, told Bloomberg in June.

Critics charge the DOE’s study essentially writes off the possibility that demand for LNG will drop as countries seek to slash their carbon and methane emissions, which drive climate change. The DOE draft assigns only a 5% likelihood to the scenario that including pollution curbs to make two degrees of climate warming 50 percent less likely, the commenters wrote – essentially refusing to plan for the possibility that the world takes action to prevent climate catastrophe.

“This is an entirely subjective and cynical statement,” the environmental organizations, which include Food & Water Watch, Oil Change International,, the Center for Biological Diversity and dozens more, wrote, “that does not constitute a methodology for assessing the likelihood of international climate change policy affecting the long-term demand for gas outside of the United States.”

The DOE draft also left out the role that fracking bans like those in New York and Maryland could play, improperly accounted for the “considerable economic costs of continuing climate change impacts, including storm damage, loss of essential resources, mass migration and increased social and military conflicts,” and failed “to acknowledge the ongoing and rapidly accelerating transition to renewable energy and storage,” the groups wrote.

The LNG industry argues that by replacing coal as a fuel, it can help keep a lid on carbon pollution and therefore play a role in combatting climate change. A peer-reviewed study published in the journal Energy in December found that the exact opposite is true: LNG exports will exacerbate climate change, causing greenhouse gas pollution to rise.

And not just a little bit, a lot, according to the study’s co-author.

“[T]he greenhouse gas impacts from exporting U.S. natural gas, if you’re really looking at how it impacts things here at home and abroad,” Alex Gilbert, a D.C.-based energy researcher and co-author of that study,told E&E News, “can be very, very bad.”

Environmentalist say that a more complete look at allowing the kind of unlimited LNG exports suggested by the DOE draft would also show economic costs that are very, very bad – expecially once you look at the expense of failing to prevent significant climate change.

Rising sea levels alone could bring a $14 trillion a year pricetag by 2100 if the climate warms more than 2 degrees Celsius, researchers from the UK-based National Oceanographic Centre warned in a peer-reviewed study published earlier this month (though to be sure, LNG exports are only one source among many of climate-changing pollution).

Nonetheless, the DOE study ignored those costs and others like them without good justification, the groups wrote, skewing its projections in favor of the industry.

“The world will increasingly reject our gas exports in favor of truly clean, renewable power,” predicted Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, which co-authored the comments to DOE, “and as a result the costs of this policy to Americans will skyrocket.”

Related: Read DeSmog’s series Finances of Fracking: Shale Industry Drills More Debt Than Profit

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  1. The Rev Kev

    A recent Pentagon report revealed that about half their bases are being affected by climate change. This includes sites such as “the Marine Corps’ boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina, the nuclear submarine repair site in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine and a missile defense system against possible attacks from Asia based in the Marshall Islands.” Even the Naval Station at Norfolk in Virginia is flooding about ten times a year right now.
    So, here is my question. Are they taking note that this will probably also affect those LNG export ports as well? Are they being established with sea level in mind or will there be a point where these ports will be unusable due to constant flooding by sea water? That stuff is corrosive after all. At what point will that port be unusable due to rising seas? The Pentagon is assessing all their bases but I bet that nobody is assessing these LNG gas export ports.

  2. Epistrophy

    “Rising sea levels alone could bring a $14 trillion a year pricetag by 2100 …”

    Hmmmm. Engineers that design and build marine infrastructure generally try to account for rising sea levels in their designs. The last major, multi-billion dollar, deep water port project (completed mid 2000’s) in which I was directly involved on behalf of the owner required a 150 year service life and the European design team raised the level of the deck approximately 1 inch to accommodate the risk of rising sea levels due to climate change. I think the estimate of $14 trillion a year is a little overblown.

    But in any case is the DOE also responsible for the Environment? Wouldn’t that issue be better addressed by the EPA? Otherwise we are creating waste and ineffiiency by duplicating responsibility and expertise throughout the government, no?

    1. KYrocky

      The forecast for sea level rise by 2030 has tripled in the past few years and is now at just under 1 foot. The rate of rise until 2100 is estimated at 1 foot every 15 years, give or take, but likely to be at least 8′ of average global sea rise by the end of the century.

      From the time period you cite, mid-2000’s, those rates have already been smashed. Models are being used to estimate the rates of sea level rise, and the only thing that has been consistent since the mid-2000’s has been that the worst case scenario for all of the models has been exceeded by actual measurements every year.

      Globally, before the end of the century, tens of millions of people will need to be relocated from low lying portions of countries due to inundation. Millions more will need to be relocated due to the risk of storm damage from the increasingly higher sea elevations. Infrastructure costs will be enormous, and they will begin racking up long before 2100.

      America’s military leaders have for some time accepted sea level rise as a national threat and have been planning for the required changes to their facilities. I expect they have cost projected costs for doing so, but as our Republican administration continues to deny the existence of the problem I do not expect any agency of our government to take a public lead in speaking to this threat, but addressing it will require the efforts and coordination of multiple agencies, not one.

      1. Epistrophy

        Hang on, a one foot rise in sea level globally within 12 years? Have you considered the volume of water this would require? And then one foot every 15 years until 2100 – an 8 foot rise globally?

        Well this is a very specific and testable prediction; it will be intersting to see if it is validated in 12 years time. So far the ports that I have been involved with have not yet experienced any measurable sea level rise. If the 12/15 year predictions are correct, many major ports will become useless rather quickly. We shall see what happens.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Most models are predicting between 0.2 to 2 metres rise to 2100, with more recent models on the higher end. Of course, localised conditions mean it can be much better or worse. The most reliable long term measurements are considered to be in Australia (in other areas, long term groundwater abstractions has effected the accuracy), which has given a figure of 3.4mm per year. Its usually been found that no changes have been measured in tidal guages in the US, but more recent studies that take account of isostatic and other changes point to historic rises of around 2 mm a year. Most studies that I’ve seen indicate that the changes are accellerating. Sea level changes can be very rapid as its not just a case of melting icecaps, thermal expansion is usually a much greater contributor.

          Of course, an average sea level rise can grossly underestimate real impacts. In Ireland, some tidal guages have shown tide heights up to 1.5 metres higher than expected during storm events. In my country, Ireland, it is now standard procedure to assume a 0.5 metre sea rise to 2050 – the quay walls in Dublin are currently being raised to precisely this standard. In some areas, greater provision is made as local erosion will expose fixed engineering works such as harbour walls to much greater storm forces than was anticipated just 10 or 15 years ago.

          1. Epistrophy

            Yes I agree that in localized cases there could be very significant changes, but this is due to many causes, and anthropogenic climate change may or may not be a factor. Changes in current flow, wave dynamics, storm dynamics, tectonics, subsidence, erosion, sedimentation, urban/marine development and so on may be governing.

            But for the average level of the sea to rise one foot in 12 years and thereafter 1 foot each 15 years? We shall have to see.

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              It would be better to de-warm the global so we don’t have to see a sea-level rise which would be too expensive to cope with accompanied by mass movement of refugees which would be too destabilizing to cope with.

    2. Dwight

      It’s not duplicative to account for likely economic effects of environmental regulations and environmental impacts in an economic analysis. DOE could consult with other agencies for any necessary expertise.

  3. Louis Fyne

    not being snarky. but what’s the alternative?

    Group A wants no nukes (my preferred intermediate-term, less-bad, pick-your-poison option).
    Group B wants no wind turbines cuz it blocks their ocean views
    Group C wants natural gas because it isn’t coal

    Mainstream media/the powers that be/Leonardo DiCaprio are not advocating reduce-reuse-recycle-repair.

    And nuclear fusion has been predicted as “commercially viable in 20 years” since the 1970’s. [but reportedly 2040 *might* actually be the year]

    And the TV talking heads are screaming “Russia, Russia Russia” so loudly that it’s drowning out every other message

    1. Louis Fyne

      And to get all “meta,’ I;m beginning to think that CO2-induced climate change might be one of the answers to Fermi’s Paradox.

      Maybe engineering nuclear fusion is so difficult, most civilizations acidify their oceans before cracking that nut.

      what a happy thought

      1. Synoia

        The Pairing of the Earth and its large moon, and the consequent tides and tidal action on life are unstated in the Fermi paradox.

        Without the moon, life on Earth would be very different, and the migration of life from the sea to the shore very different and might not even emerge.

        Nuclear fusion is cracked. It’s called the temperate zone, or a safe distance from the Sun.

        We need a number of things for a system similar to the earth/moon system: Fermi only considered (1).

        1. A planet in the habitable zone
        2. A satellite the size of the moon
        3. A satellite with a similar distance from the planet
        4. A Life extinguishing event which promoted hominoids
        5. A civilization which survived extinction from energy excess

        I’d note the existence of Humans on the planet is a low probability in itself. If the dinosaurs had net been extinguished, I doubt mammals would have grown to the size they are today.

        1. Probability 1:1,000,000
        2. Probability 1:1,000,000
        3. Probability 1:1,000,000
        4. Probability 1:1,000,000
        5. Probability 1:1000

        Overall probability: 1:1,000,,000,000,000, or one in a thousand, trillion, trillion, with these estimates.

        1. Synoia

          This experiment was/is running a ridiculously large number of times

          The experiment (evolving to us here and now) may have been tried a ridiculously large number of times, but with conditions above was did not progress beyond an early failure (death) to some high probability (very close to 1), and, the probability of a second success, if that is what we are, is the square of the probability us.

          If condition on this experiment do not improve, we are looking at another failure – aka a “sixth great dyeing,” and that the Dinosaurs appear to be more successful at longevity with brains the size of a walnut.

          Which raises the question: “Is intelligence as we know it a evolutionary advantage?”

    2. Grumpy Engineer

      Oh, yes. You have a point there. Sharon Kelly’s article is essentially high-grade whining. She complains about the harmful effects of the exported natural gas, but doesn’t indicate what the customers of that natural gas should use as an alternative for their needs. And that’s important to note. People will buy this gas because they need it. The intended purpose isn’t pollution, even though that unquestionably happens as a side-effect. The gas people buy from the US will be used for power generation (to keep the lights on), for industrial processes (to manufacture goods), or for direct heating (to keep people from freezing to death during cold weather).

      And without an alternative, people will keep doing what they’re doing today.

      And what are the alternatives? I strongly endorse nuclear, but that puts me in the minority just about everywhere.

      Should we use coal? Germany and South Korea turned off several of their nuclear stations and fired up coal-fired stations instead, but I’m having extreme difficulty imagining that the environment will benefit from increased coal production and consumption.

      The most popular “solution” is renewables, but its intermittent nature will prevent it from ever being a complete solution. Typically it’s only a 20% solution (though it can be higher in countries that have a lot of hydro and/or larger neighbors who are willing to import their solar- and wind-generated surpluses). “Storage” is touted as the means to overcome this problem, but it people truly understood the scale of the storage that would be required, they’d realize that it isn’t a solution at all.

      Indeed, James Hansen called the 100% renewable solution a “grotesque fantasy” in a recent Boston Globe article. To quote:

      The notion that renewable energies and batteries alone will provide all needed energy is fantastical. It is also a grotesque idea, because of the staggering environmental pollution from mining and material disposal, if all energy was derived from renewables and batteries. Worse, tricking the public to accept the fantasy of 100 percent renewables means that, in reality, fossil fuels reign and climate change grows.

      Now personally, I think that Hansen’s climate predictions are somewhat alarmist. But to his considerable credit, he’s taken the time to educate himself on how the electrical grid works, and his criticism here is right on target.

      1. nervos belli

        Actually, no one needs US fracking gas. It’s totally uncompetitive compared to the alternatives and environmentally a disaster everywhere: at the point of origin, in transport and at end users.

        The only places US gas is “welcome” is where the US blackmails the recipients, or where the cheaper gas from somewhere else is not politically palatable, e.g baltic states and poland.

        1. nervos belli

          PS: renewable usage, not generation ,was 36% in Germany last year. So much for your 20% number.No hydro if any, no big neighbours except France where currently the germans renewables cover the shortfall of nuclear plants: we have a heatwave right now, and both nuclear and coal plants can’t be fully used or the rivers get so hot, the fishes will all die. By now however this is a regular occurrence in summer with their plants. In winter too btw, when the rivers are frozen.
          Renewable power generation was 44% last year. Germany has exported a lot of power for years now btw, so we could power down quite a lot plants probably.

          What coal powerplants were fired up? What happens are older plants aren’t razed but put in standby in case there is prolonged lack of renewable power. For shorter periods, first gas plants are used. They can react faster. I don’t know of any new coal plants.

          As for nuclear plants: as long as no one knows what to do with the waste, it’s a literal waste of money. No power company can pay enough to care for the waste. Totally uneconomical. Fusion is different: much lower time to care for it. And please don’t ride the dead horse named transmutation that’s even worse than CCS for coal. The alchemists already tried and they had about as much success with it :)

          Oh yeah, there are coal plants planned:

          Too bad none of them is actually built…

          1. Grumpy Engineer

            What new coal powerplants were fired up, you ask? Check out the following regarding South Korea:


            An increase in the number of coal-fired power plants starting operations this year will likely drive record coal demand in South Korea, despite the country’s pledge to curb greenhouse gas emissions at last year’s Paris climate summit.

            The Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI), a government-run think tank, forecasts South Korean coal demand will rise 6.3 percent to more than 140 million tonnes in 2016, as 9 new plants with a combined capacity of 7.7 gigawatts come online.

            And even before the new stations went online, coal consumption in South Korea was already rising sharply:


            Things in Germany haven’t been as bad, but they’ve essentially made zero progress on CO2 emissions since 2009. Last year’s emissions were actually 1.7% higher. Whoops.

          2. jrs

            It seems to me it’s too late for nuclear or at least many scenarios of it, if we predict massive ocean rise and increased storms, it’s too late for many nuclear plants to be a good anwer: think Fukushima. Maybe if they were exclusively placed in middle America it might work.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      Somewhere in the middle of James Hansen’s book Storms Of My Grandchildren is an argument for a kind of nuclear power the existence of which is too little admitted to. Why reprise the argument here? Its in the book.

  4. Eugene Morley

    Does anyone have a handle as to just how much Natural Gas is available and how long it will be? It seems that there’s only so much “Fracking” can produce, that it’s not infinite, as well as the amounts that escape from around each well are a problem. Also, what are the life spans of these well? And what happens when they no longer produce? Perhaps it’s just me, but this mad rush to export the hydrocarbons from the U.S. may in the short run, produce $$$$ profits, but for how long and then where will the U.S.Economy be left with? I might add, that the turnover in the companies engaged in this effort, seem to be burning through $$$$ with not to much return, if any, aside from the occasional sale to others. I’m sure the Bankers love it, but it also looks like the “Ponzi” schemes we keep hearing about.

    1. rjs

      assuming the planet is still populated 25 years from now, we will be importing natural gas again, and paying ten times what we’re now selling it for…

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Which is part of the reason for selling it now . . . . to deplete America’s supply to zero in order to make foreign gas the only alternative left. That way the bussiness can make money coming and going.

        The bright side of your scenario is . . . at 10 times the price, use should be discouraged. Ten times the price seems reasonably punitive to me, if the goal is to reduce pollution and waste.

  5. rjs

    i dont want to dismiss the threat to the planet from burning fossil fuels, but the more immediate problem is that the natural gas for LNG exports is not there now, and won’t ever be there at anything near the prices that are being paid for natural gas today…

    US natural gas production growth isn’t even keeping up with our own consumption, which was growing at an 11% rate in the first half…hence, two weeks ago, the EIA forecast a 10 year low for pre-winter natural supplies… looking at the numbers on their forecast, they’re figuring we’d still be adding 80 billion cubic feet per week of natural gas to storage over the next 15 weeks to even meet their 10 year low projection going into winter…additions in recent weeks have averaged 40 billion cubic feet, with only 24 billion cubic feet being added in the most recent week, 50% less than the median estimate of analysts…so i’m guessing we’ll go into winter with even less natural gas stored than we had a the 2008 low…

    two weeks back i covered the EIA winter forecast, & 4 weeks back i covered the current supply/demand situation & the S&P Global Platts report on LNG exports, which shows 27 LNG export facilities on the drawing board or under construction, which would export more than half the gas we’re now producing, while idiotically forecasting just a 23% increase in US production at the same time…

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Thanks for that – the wave of LNG plants is simply one of the most economically crazy booms I’ve seen – it is based on a hugely optimistic assumption of both demand abroad (the Europeans in particular are just not interested except as leverage for negotiating with the Russians, North Africans and Qataris), and hugely optimistic production assumptions. Its hard to see it ending well.

      Incidentally, there is probably one good thing they could do with those LNG plants – rapidly convert cargo vessels from diesel and bunker fuel to LNG. That would at least have localised environmental benefits for air quality and release price pressure on oil. But that seems the one market they are not too bothered about.

  6. JimTan

    Looks like we’re trying to recoup some of the massive subsidies made to support the construction of liquefied natural gas facilities. New LNG projects like the Cove Point LNG export facility likely means many more of these megadeal subsidies.

  7. ScottS

    “The DOE draft also left out the role that fracking bans like those in New York and Maryland could play”

    They know something that we don’t.

    1. blennylips

      Interesting in what way?

      The recent warming since the end of the Little Ice Age has been wholly beneficial when compared to the devastating impacts arising from the relatively minor cooling of the Little Ice Age.

      Tell that to the Iberians, see if they agree:

      Extreme fire danger during the intense heat wave across Spain and Portugal this week

      An extremely dangerous heat wave is developing across the Iberian peninsula and will be peaking this weekend. It could locally be record or near record-breaking as various models are forecasting daytime temperatures in the upper 40s, close to +50 °C!

  8. PlutoniumKun

    That site is tin foil stuff. There is no scientific evidence whatever for those assertions. Its just an old denier trope based on a highly selective choice of ‘facts’.

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