The consumption of natural gas in the world increased by about 70% from 2000 to 2022. Surging demand was driven by overall economic growth, the shift from coal to gas in electricity generation, and increased production. One of the biggest increases in production came in the form of gas produced by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the United States.
Major supply sources often are located far from demand centers. When pipelines are not feasible, natural gas is cooled to a liquid state (liquefied), at about -164° Centigrade (-260° Fahrenheit), for shipping and storage. The volume of the resulting liquefied natural gas (LNG) is about 600 times smaller than its volume in its gaseous state. The higher energy density makes it economically feasible to ship LNG long distances in special tankers.
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The top five LNG exporting nations (Australia, Qatar, United States, Russia, Malaysia) have abundant natural gas resources. The top five LNG importing nations (China, Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan) have modest natural gas resources but large demand for heating and electricity generation. This creates a strong pattern in global LNG trade.
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LNG is problematic from a climate perspective. A power plant burning natural gas derived from LNG has lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to a coal fired power plant. But the climate benefit is smaller than commonly assumed due to the methane leakages across the NGL supply chain, including transportation.1 Electricity from LNG has significantly higher emissions than low carbon sources such as wind, solar, and nuclear power. LNG infrastructure is long lived and creates an incentive to continue extracting fossil methane for decades to come, a clear contradiction of sound climate policy.
LNG is problematic from an energy justice perspective. For example, the Sabine Pass (Louisiana) and Freeport and Corpus Christi (Texas) LNG facilities are located in communities that are overburdened and underserved from energy, climate, environmental, and economic justice perspectives. These communities are low income, have high percentages of black and brown households, and share a legacy of industrial activity that generated mountains of toxic and hazardous waste.2 Additional proposed LNG projects in Texas and Louisiana would be sited in similar communities.
1 Swanson, Christina and Amanda Levin, 2020, “Sailing to nowhere: liquefied natural gas is not an effective climate strategy,” Natural Resources Defense Council, Report R: 20-08-A,https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/sailing-nowhere-liquefied-natural-gas-report.pdf
2 Council on Environmental Quality, Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, accessed May 30, 2023, https://screeningtool.geoplatform.gov/en/