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Consider the bigger picture for US natural gas imports


In a post at ThinkProgress, Joe Romm throws a wet blanket on the idea of exporting US natural gas in an attempt to curb Russia's energy leverage, saying "Sadly, few seem to care about diminishing the threat posed by climate change, since it has become increasingly clear that LNG would make things worse."

The issue is more nuanced than that, and I think two things need to be considered when performing the calculus of natural gas imports. First, as I wrote in January on this blog, consider the opportunity of exporting US natural gas instead of US coal:

you need something that provides generally the same benefits of coal: easily dispatchable, high energy density, compatible with existing infrastructure etc. But it needs to avoid the GHG emissions of coal. Renewables and energy storage are on the table, but I think natural gas would be an appealing alternative to coal in global markets – at least in the short to medium term.

And perhaps as part of a climate pact, the US opens up more of its natural gas resources for export, which could then serve countries like China and Germany. The US would need to expedite the LNG export permitting process and there would need to be some concession from the chemical industry (who uses natural gas as a feedstock for many processes, like making fertilizer) who are worried about rising prices.

There are a lot of moving parts here, but exporting US natural gas, in some respects, is more desireable than sending US coal oversees from a climate perspective.

Second, is to recognize that climate is one of many competing factors that influence decisions on the global energy trade. Potentially creating a long-term alternative to Russian natural gas is surely appealing to American policymakers, as are the larger implications of selling gas on a spot market instead of oil-linked prices, which is how much of the world purchases gas. And energy is an important foreign policy mechanism that the US can utilize to counter growing Russian influence in Eastern Europe. Obviously, climate is one of ThinkProgress' main jams so you should expect the climate angle, but there's more to consider than just climate.

tl;dr: I'm not so quick to dimiss natural gas exports.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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