Large storage tanks, extensive refinery structures, and towering “flare stacks” shooting flames into the skies now dot the landscapes of the Gulf Coast, spanning from the swamps and marshlands of Louisiana to the southern tip of Texas. The driving force behind this transformation is the remarkable surge in liquefied natural gas (LNG) processing and exporting in the region.
Notably, the United States has emerged as the world’s foremost LNG exporter, a feat unimaginable just a decade ago. LNG, a condensed form of natural gas, primarily composed of methane, is created by cooling natural gas into a liquid state for easier transport and storage.
The rapid growth of the LNG market in the U.S. is a tale of economic triumph, but it also raises profound environmental and social concerns. LNG companies in the Gulf Coast region are thriving, with record-setting gas export deliveries in the first half of the year and promises of hundreds of new jobs for coastal communities in dire need.
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However, as reported by Grist, these companies are also clearing vast swaths of vulnerable shoreline to make way for massive LNG facilities. Over the past seven years, seven new LNG plants have sprung up, with two dozen more in the pipeline. The sheer number of these facilities is a matter of concern, with environmental lawyer Elizabeth Calderon likening them to “giant death stars” on sinking land.
The expansion of LNG plants is disconcerting for several reasons. The flaring of gas at these facilities releases harmful pollutants, including carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds, known to be linked to cancer. The energy-intensive process of supercooling natural gas into a liquid form also leads to the release of carcinogens.
What’s more, the expansion of LNG plants disproportionately affects lower-income communities, particularly those with predominantly Black residents. Both the production and consumption of LNG contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, further exacerbating global warming. Although natural gas is considered less carbon-intensive than oil, burning it for electricity still emits carbon dioxide, and the drilling process can result in significant methane leaks.
Ironically, the Gulf Coast is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including hurricanes and flooding, which pose a direct threat to coastal LNG facilities.
Efforts to address the hazards associated with LNG plants are underway. Environmental organizations petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May, alleging that regulators in Louisiana and Texas had unlawfully issued permits to LNG operators. Additionally, these organizations filed a civil rights complaint with the EPA in June.
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Experts argue that investing in renewable energy sources, rather than finite gas resources, would yield more significant benefits in combating global warming, mitigating extreme weather events, and reducing health hazards. The transition to cleaner energy alternatives is increasingly urgent as the Gulf Coast and the world grapple with the consequences of rapid LNG expansion.