What is Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)?
Liquefied natural gas or LNG is natural gas that has been converted temporarily to liquid form for ease of storage or transport. LNG takes up about 1/600th the volume of natural gas in the gaseous state. It is odorless, colorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive. Its main hazard is its flammability.
LNG is principally used for transporting natural gas to markets, where it is regasified and distributed as pipeline natural gas. Its relatively high cost of production and the need to store it in expensive cryogenic tanks have prevented its widespread use in commercial applications.
Historically, the United States has been a large importer of natural gas, but we have never substantively exported domestically produced natural gas. However, with the recent shale gas boom energy policy in the United States is shifting with many multinational companies seeking to export the new domestic supply to foreign markets, which have dramatically higher prices than the continental U.S.
There are currently 11 existing LNG import terminals in the United States, 10 of which are jurisdictionally controlled by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the federal agency tasked with administering and managing interstate and international energy facilities and commerce. Click here to see a map of current FERC-licensed LNG facilities.
What’s the Connection Between LNG & the Susquehanna Watershed?
The Susquehanna Watershed represents the heart of the Mid-Atlantic shale gas boom, with more than 50% of the watershed underlain by Marcellus shale deposits. Similarly, the deeper Utica Shale deposit underlies a majority of the Susquehanna Watershed although it has yet to be tapped by industry. Due to Pennsylvania’s weak environmental regulatory programs and a gubernatorial administration intent on quickly developing shale gas resources, the gas industry has capitalized on developing plays within the Susquehanna Watershed.
As of January 2012 over 4,000 Marcellus shale gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania, with an expected total of approximately 60,000 to be drilled for that deposit. Estimates are even larger for the Utica Shale. Current pipeline systems channel much of the produced natural gas to existing refineries and storage facilities in adjacent states. However, the most economically efficient way to transport and store natural gas is by liquefaction as LNG, especially in foreign markets. The nearest LNG facility to the Susquehanna Watershed is the facility of Dominion Cove Point, located on the Maryland’s Western Shore in the Chesapeake Bay.
Today there is not a domestic demand for natural gas capable of keeping profit margins high enough to drive the current level of frenzied shale gas production in perpetuity. Therefore, many gas companies are looking to increase their profitability by seeking to export domestic U.S. natural gas to foreign countries. Dominion Cove Point is one of those companies seeking to change its plant’s operations from importing, to exporting.
Exporting Natural Gas Is a Terrible Policy
Because a majority of Mid-Atlantic shale gas is developed and runs to distributors in pipelines through the Susquehanna Watershed, we are very concerned with the idea of exportation. Exporting will drive further development of shale gas and its infrastructure in our watershed, representing an additional pressure to develop regardless of shale gas’ environmental and social consequences.
Taken by itself, exporting is a poor policy choice when there is already a serious debate as to the propriety of developing shale gas as a good fuel per se, and further debate about the proper level of regulation necessary to ensure water quality, landscapes, and human health are protected. Further, selling domestically produced natural gas is a direct contradiction of the shale gas industries’ promise of U.S. energy independence – in fact, exporting natural gas means we’re allowing corporations to sell our resources to foreign countries in pursuit of profits, while leaving us to foot the environmental and economic bill, not to mention doing nothing for weaning our country from our dependence on foreign energy.
What Are We Doing?
We have submitted comments to the Dept. of Energy concerning its authority to license the LNG export facility. We also anticipate intervening with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to help it assess the propriety of allowing Dominion Cove Point a license to export LNG. We are committed to stopping this poor proposal because we don’t believe that exporting natural gas is in the public interest, nor can it be done without compromising the health of communities, waterways, and the environment.
See our “Comments & Petitions” page to read comments we’ve submitted to the Dept. of Energy in opposition to LNG export.
Interested in learning more? Email us! Riverkeeper@lowsusriverkeeper.org.