President Joe Biden announced a temporary halt on Friday to the pending approvals for exports from new liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects. This decision, welcomed by climate campaigners, could postpone the finalisation of new facilities until after the 5 November election.
The Department of Energy (DOE) will utilise this interval to assess the economic and environmental ramifications of proposals seeking to export LNG to regions like Europe and Asia, where there is a high demand for the fuel.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm informed journalists during a teleconference that the review process will extend over several months, followed by a phase for public feedback, which will further extend the timeline.
In a statement, Biden said, “During this period, we will take a hard look at the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs, America’s energy security, and our environment.” He further noted that the suspension acknowledges the climate crisis as “the existential threat of our time.”
Officials from the administration assured that the suspension would not jeopardise the relations with allies, highlighting that the strategy includes provisions for national security exceptions if there is an urgent need for more LNG.
Granholm emphasised the commitment to bolster energy security domestically and among allied nations.
Concerns are mounting in Europe over the consistent availability of U.S. gas as the continent seeks to reduce its reliance on pipeline gas from Russia following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Allies in Asia are also eager for LNG as part of their efforts to cut down on coal use.
The previous assessment of LNG export initiatives occurred in 2018, when the export capability stood at 4 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd). Since then, this capacity has tripled, making the U.S. the leading LNG exporter last year, with projections to increase further by 2030 due to ongoing projects.
The expansion has triggered protests from environmental advocates, who argue that new LNG projects could detrimentally affect local communities through pollution, perpetuate global dependency on fossil fuels for decades, and contribute to emissions from gas combustion and methane leaks.
Environmental groups have praised the decision as a courageous measure.
Ben Jealous, leader of the Sierra Club, remarked that it “continues this administration’s historic efforts to meet the global commitment to phase out fossil fuels and confront the climate crisis head on.”
Various sectors of the U.S. industry, including chemicals, steel, food, and agriculture, have also expressed opposition to unrestricted U.S. gas exports, citing concerns over fuel prices and supply reliability.
The halt will impact only four projects awaiting DOE export approval, according to an administration official, who did not specify the projects.
These projects might involve initiatives by Sempra Infrastructure, Commonwealth LNG, and Energy Transfer, as indicated on the DOE’s website. A representative from Sempra stated confidence that their projects would replace more carbon-intensive fossil fuels, such as coal, and supply gas to allies. The other firms had not responded to comment requests at the time.