at 8.one edition of the Compendium of Scientific Findings on Fracking, released last May by Concerned Health Professionals of New York (a program of The Science and Environmental Health Network) and Physicians for Social Responsibility, evidence shows that the infrastructure associated with natural gas (LNG) poses a serious threat to public safety and the climate, as well as causing destruction of coastal habitat.

LNG is obtained from the purification of methane gas, which is transformed through the process of cryogenesis – a capital and energy intensive process – into a super-cold, bubbling liquid. A typical LNG facility has its own power plant to achieve the low temperatures necessary for the methane to reach its dew point. As volatile impurities such as benzene need to be removed before the gas is cooled, liquefaction plants are a source of air pollutants for neighboring communities. In the United States, the vast majority of these plants are located in low-income racialized communities that inhabit the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There are currently plans to expand these facilities.

When natural gas is cooled to a liquid state, it occupies 1/600 of the original volume, which allows it to be transported in tankers to areas where pipelines do not reach. LNG facilities are an incentive for fracking as they generate storage capacity for the huge amounts of gas obtained through fracking, allow for its export and increase prices and profit margins. Cooling, venting, pouring, flaring and transport make LNG 30% more energy intensive than conventional natural gas. According to a recent study, exporting large amounts of LNG from the United States will increase global greenhouse gas emissions.

As the evaporative cooling method is used to prevent explosions and maintain low temperatures during storage and transport, the very design of LNG tanks makes them prone to leaks. The vaporized gas is expelled directly from the storage tanks. Larger tanks are designed to capture some of the evaporated gas, but it is not a leak-proof process. Once exported, the LNG arrives at its destination and, before being flared or transported through pipelines, must be regasified through another energy-intensive process, which also requires a large infrastructure and includes periodic flaring for pressure control.

With more than 10% of the national production of natural gas destined abroad, in 2021 the United States became the world’s largest exporter of LNG. The gas comes mainly from fracking operations, mainly in the Permian Basin (Texas). The boom in the export market means that North American drillers are operating at a dizzying pace, putting into operation almost all the equipment available for the fracturing.

fracking, liquefied gas, climate changefracking, liquefied gas, climate change
Photo: Cheniere Energy’s “Sabine Pass” LNG export terminal off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. ©Julie Dermansky Photography

Amid an energy crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Europe has begun to rethink its dependence on Russia, which contributes approximately 45% of natural gas imports. In the short term, this means that Europe will turn even more to gas from fracturing from the United States, which will arrive as LNG in methane ships to existing terminals, but also to others that are in the planning phase. On March 25 this year, President Biden pledged to supply Europe with 1.5 billion cubic meters of LNG by 2022 and reach 50 billion by 2030. The announcement revived previously dormant plans to build LNG import terminals. in Germany.

LNG poses a serious public safety risk. A spill of LNG into water can cause an explosion; if the spill occurs on the ground, it can become rapidly expanding odorless clouds which, on contact, cause instantaneous freezing of human skin and oxygen displacement asphyxiation. If the released LNG is ignited at the source, the LNG vapors can become a “pool fire”, which burns at higher temperatures than other fuels and cannot be extinguished, but the LNG must burn completely.

In the event of a fire, the high temperature means LNG can cause second degree burns within a mile radius. LNG facilities pose a high risk to nearby populations and therefore have been strongly rejected. In Oregon, the Jordan Cove project to install an export terminal and pipeline had to be put on hold after 15 years of sustained resistance by neighbors and indigenous communities. In April 2021, the project developer, unable to obtain state licenses to operate, put it on indefinite pause. In December of the same year, it asked the Federal Commission for Energy Regulation to cancel the authorizations for the terminal and the Pacific Connector gas pipeline. A victory and a clear rejection of this type of project.

You can refer to pages 17-20, 46-49, 367-415 of the Compendium.

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Translation: Territory of Ideas

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