At this very moment tens of thousands of representatives from all corners of the globe are convening in Scotland to get serious about climate change. The 26th annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP26, is happening now in Glasgow. At the same time that some of the brightest and most powerful people in the world convene to strategize how to meet the targets set by the Paris climate accord, another convention is taking place on the other side of the Atlantic, but this one is headed by fossil fuel industry heads. This week Lake Charles, Louisiana is hosting a major conference for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, a key economic sector in the bayou state. Louisiana has the highest LNG output of any state in the nation and it’s concentrated in Cameron Parish. In fact, if the Parish, which measures less than 2,000 square miles, were a nation it would be the world’s third largest LNG exporter behind Qatar and Australia.
While Louisiana has embraced natural gas as a lucrative market sector and a cleaner alternative to coal, not everyone is thrilled about the rapid development of the industry. While it is true that natural gas burns cleaner than coal, and is a good stepping stone away from the dirtiest fossil fuels on the way to clean energy, LNG is still a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards seems to be trying to play both sides. The Governor is currently at COP26, and has convened a task force to develop a plan for reducing the state’s emissions -- no small task, as Louisiana’s economy is highly reliant on the energy and petrochemical industries. However, he is also loyal to natural gas, and has touted strategies like carbon capture and storage, which many environmentalists and climate activists see as blatant greenwashing techniques. “I believe that LNG has a tremendous role to play,” Governor Edwards said during a visit to Lake Charles last week. “Every time anywhere in the world a coal-powered plant is converted or decommissioned in lieu of a gas-powered plant, natural gas, then that helps the environment.”
Edwards does acknowledge, however, that natural gas is only a stop-gap solution, and not a viable long-term alternative for climate-friendly energy production. “There's a transition underway,” he said. “It's going to take a decade or two or three — I don't know how long — but the future is not fossil fuels. They’re never going to go away completely. But there's a cleaner energy future.”
In fact, National Geographic reported last year that natural gas is much worse for the environment than we had previously thought, and many of the energy transition measures that included natural gas as part of their plan are not as eco-friendly as they would have hoped. This is largely because the natural gas industry is a huge source of methane emissions. Methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere nearly as long as carbon dioxide, but its greenhouse effect is 80 times stronger.
Environmentalists point out that there is a particularly cruel irony in the fact that Louisiana has leaned so far into the LNG sector, as it is one of the U.S. states that has suffered the most from climate change. The gulf shore has been battered by hurricanes that are increasing in power as well as frequency. The most recent, July’s Ida, wreaked havoc on Louisiana’s energy industry and caused massive environmental devastation. In the wake of the storm, the Coast Guard was sent out to investigate a whopping 350 oil spills off the Louisiana coast.
The natural gas sector will be vulnerable to the same vicious storms, which will only continue to worsen in the coming years, in no small part thanks to the continued development of the selfsame industry.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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