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Advantages, disadvantages for the US Gulf Coast

International efforts to punish Russia for its war on Ukraine are being felt far from Europe, in the US Gulf state of Louisiana, a hub of the US energy sector.

Late last month, the European Union announced it was exploring ways to achieve independence from Russian energy “well before 2030”. American companies have taken notice.

“You can see that most European countries don’t want to be seen as complicit in Russia’s barbarism,” said Brian Lloyd, vice president of communications at Sempra Energy, a US-based energy infrastructure company. which invests in the production of natural gas. “Many see every dollar sent to Russian state energy companies as helping to fuel its aggression in Ukraine, so Europe is looking for energy alternatives.”

At the end of March, the United States announced an agreement with the EU to start replacing some of the natural gas supplied by Russia. By the end of this year, President Joe Biden has said, the United States will be able to ship enough gas to Europe to offset at least 10% of what Russia is currently supplying, or $15 billion. cubic meters of liquefied natural gas.

LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to a liquid state. Its volume is about 600 times smaller than its gaseous state.

“It makes shipping to Europe economical when building pipelines across an ocean wouldn’t be,” Eric Smith, associate director of Tulane University’s Institute of Energy, told Reuters. New Orleans.
The United States plans to meet its new commitments to Europe by increasing domestic natural gas production. To do this, industry leaders are proposing to build new LNG facilities and to expand and increase the efficiency of existing facilities.

“It will be like the Marshall Plan we supported Europe with after World War II, but this one will be energy-focused,” Lloyd said. “The United States is in a unique position to lead the way in this area because we have one of the cheapest natural gases in the world.”

Much of the existing and expanded LNG production capacity is concentrated in the states of Louisiana and Texas along the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico. Many heads of state and industry hail LNG production in the region, while environmentalists and commercial fishermen are far less enthusiastic.

“We make our living in the sea,” said Dean Blanchard, shrimper and president of Dean Blanchard Seafood. “I don’t know much about natural gas yet, but anything that changes the dynamics of water really freaks us out.”

Overseas energy crisis

About 40% of the natural gas used in Europe—as well as 25% of crude oil and refined petroleum products—is produced in Russia.

“Europe is a continent that has been dependent on Russian energy for quite some time,” Smith told VOA. “So Biden’s pledge to help supply the EU with LNG has become a key element in convincing some European countries to announce sanctions against Moscow. That’s why this increased LNG production is so important.”

But Europe’s energy crisis began long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Back-to-back colder-than-usual winters and a global awakening from coronavirus lockdowns have boosted demand for many types of energy.

Europe has taken aggressive steps to embrace renewable energy sources, but has found production to be inconsistent as it is often dependent on the weather.

“Europe is in a tough spot – it doesn’t want to import fossil fuels like natural gas as it tries to cut carbon emissions,” Smith said. “But natural gas is actually a perfect transition. Nuclear and coal plants take weeks to turn on and off, whereas natural gas can be turned off in minutes. When you run out of renewables , natural gas can be an easy bridge to get through another cold winter.”

Smith added: “It’s also, by the way, needed for fertilizer and for producing grain, which could be very important for Europe and the Middle East if this war in Ukraine continues.”

environmental crisis at home

Much of the LNG exported by the US will pass through the US Gulf Coast.

“We have six or seven LNG export terminals in the United States,” explained Naomi Yoder, a scientist at Healthy Gulf, an environmental organization focused on protecting the Gulf of Mexico. “Four of them – soon to be five – are located on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas. We have six more in the works in the region as well. That’s a huge number for a relatively small region.”

And it’s a region that’s no stranger to energy-related environmental disasters.

“It would take me hours to tell you about the effects of that 2010 BP oil spill,” said seafood entrepreneur Blanchard. “Our ecosystem is still recovering from this spill – the amount of fish, shrimp and oysters is still declining. And the number of humans who have fallen ill here on Grand Isle (Louisiana’s small barrier island), these people will never recover.”

Blanchard said the BP oil spill only got attention because of its scale. But smaller spills, he said, are happening every day.

“These energy companies say they care about us and our livelihoods, but they are destroying us,” he said.

Blanchard’s hometown of Grand Isle may soon have an LNG facility nearby. While Blanchard admits he doesn’t know precisely how expanding natural gas production and transportation will affect the ecosystem, Yoder predicts only poor results.

“We’ve seen it many times,” Yoder said. “Natural gas production also produces air pollution through methane leaks and water. It harms the local ecosystem as well as the environment in general. People like to say that natural gas emits less carbon than coal, but the process of building these facilities, and liquefying that gas, and shipping it across the ocean just to turn it into gas – all of that also emits a lot of carbon into the air. We don’t need to produce more energy from fossil fuels. We need to transition to renewables like solar, wind and hydro.”

Balance

Natural gas advocates don’t oppose renewables, said Lloyd of Sempra Energy. Rather, he sees them as complementary.

“I think we all have the same goal,” he said. “We want to see an increase in the use of renewable energy over time. But you can’t pretend that if we don’t produce this natural gas now, Europe won’t just get it from somewhere else. They’re going to probably get it from Russia, where there’s a lot more methane leaking and where they’re not working as hard as we are to reduce carbon emissions further.”

Smith of Tulane University agrees.

“All serious analysts say we are not on track to move our global economy away from fossil fuels by 2050,” he said. “So Europe is going to get its natural gas one way or another because it’s not just going to let its people freeze or starve.”

For now, many energy executives and lawmakers say there’s an opportunity to cut a revenue stream for Russia’s war machine — and boost jobs and incomes along America’s coast. of the gulf.

But anglers like Blanchard worry about a potentially costly compromise.

“Of course I want to help Ukraine, and I’m proud of how they are fighting for themselves,” he said. “But how can I be expected to support something that could destroy my livelihood? I can’t do this for Ukraine or anyone else.”

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