The Biden administration’s next big climate decision

By | September 22, 2023

Bill McKibben writes:

Earlier this year, the Biden Administration approved the Willow Project, a huge oil-drilling complex to be built in Alaska on thawing permafrost that may need to be mechanically refrozen before it can be drilled. Not surprisingly, Willow drew opposition—more than five million people, many of them young, signed petitions against the plan, and a million sent letters to the White House—which, the Times noted last month, could become “a wild card factor in next year’s presidential race.”

But the Willow field is not the only major fossil-fuel project in the works. Soon, you may also be hearing a good deal about C.P.2, or Calcasieu Pass 2, an enormous liquefied-natural-gas export terminal that’s been proposed for the Louisiana coast, and which the Biden Administration is likely to approve or reject this fall. The project, the largest of at least twenty L.N.G. terminals proposed by a handful of companies to take gas mostly from the Southwest’s Permian Basin to overseas customers, is a poster child for late-stage petrocapitalism: it would help lock in the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels long past what scientists have identified as the breaking point for the climate system. And it will bring to the fore one of the most crucial—and least-discussed—parts of the climate fight: America’s rapidly increasing exports of oil and gas to the rest of the world. To give an idea of how big the battle at C.P.2 could turn out to be: according to the veteran energy analyst Jeremy Symons, the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with it would be twenty times larger than those from the oil drilling at Willow.

The Calcasieu Ship Channel is a sixty-eight-mile-long waterway, dating to the eighteen-seventies, which the Army Corps of Engineers subsequently dredged to provide deep-water access from the Gulf of Mexico thirty miles north, to the city of Lake Charles—now the twelfth-largest port in the United States. The channel is strategically situated not just because ships can easily reach it from the Gulf of Mexico but because pipelines can easily reach it from the Permian Basin. Venture Global, a Virginia-based company bidding to become the country’s leading natural-gas exporter, has already built one big L.N.G. terminal, Calcasieu Pass 1, known as C.P.1, on the channel, in Cameron Parish, and is building another in Plaquemines Parish, twenty miles south of New Orleans, where the Gulf meets the Mississippi. Now Venture Global has applied for permits to build C.P.2, a larger facility adjacent to C.P.1, which would allow the export of twenty million metric tons of L.N.G. annually. Seven terminals are already up and running in that stretch of the Louisiana coast and in neighboring parts of Texas, such as Port Arthur.

It’s the greatest L.N.G. boom in history, a feat that is all the more remarkable given that U.S. oil-and-gas exports were essentially nil before 2016, when, just days after the Paris climate negotiations ended, congressional Democrats agreed to end the forty-year ban on selling American oil abroad in exchange for extending solar- and wind-energy-industry tax credits in an omnibus spending bill. The first large-scale L.N.G. exports began in 2016; Vladimir Putin provided a rationale for backing increased exports when he launched his attack on Ukraine in 2022 and turned down the gas tap for Europe. The U.S. and others met the challenge, exporting fifty-six billion cubic metres to the European Union last year; the Biden Administration has promised another fifty billion this winter. Projects like C.P.2, though, won’t be done for at least three years, by which time the geopolitical reasoning will presumably have faded, but the infrastructure will linger for decades. The U.S. has now surpassed Russia and Qatar to become the single largest exporter of L.N.G. in the world. [Continue reading…]

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