LNG: Hero or Villain in the Global Energy Transition?

what is LNG?
over land gas pipeline system LNG tank storage at natural gas station By AA+W

Liquified natural gas (LNG) seems to be either a hero or villain depending on what side of the aisle you talk to. Despite some apprehension, gaining socio-political traction, new research, and fresh funding in the industry are sparking new debates on the future of LNG and its role in the energy transition. 

We’ll examine the many different opportunities and hurdles that present themselves for LNG currently, and what a transition from less coal to more natural gas could look like.  

What Is Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)?

To understand if LNG is the future of energy, whether it’s sustainable or not, how it affects the environment, and any other heated arguments surrounding natural gas, we must first understand what it is. Welcome to LNG 101. 

LNG is a clear and odorless gas that occurs naturally (i.e. natural gas). Natural gas is found in subsurface rock formations and gets extracted via drilled wells. The cooling process reduces the gas to a minuscule fraction of its original volume and leaves the liquid gas weighing about half as much as water.

Made up of around 85-95% methane, it contains less carbon than other forms of fossil fuels. 

Fun facts about LNG:

  • LNG produces around 40% less CO2 than coal.
  • LNG produces around 30% less CO2 than oil. 
  • LNG does not emit soot, dust, or particulates.
  • LNG releases far less sulfur dioxide, mercury, and other harmful compounds into the atmosphere.

Despite being in use for many years as a lower cost, lower emission, and lower environmental impact fossil fuel, some seem to have just woken up to the fact that this fuel source is indeed a fossil fuel. Now, fossil fuel debate aside, the stark reality is that this resource is finite and the human race cannot rely on its availability forever. As the world progresses in the energy transition, what does a cleaner, lower-carbon fossil fuel like LNG bring to the table? Well, despite best efforts on both sides of the argument, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

The Gas Stove Debate

More than 40 million American households cook with gas. As much as they may not like to admit it, some states like Newsom’s California, have much higher proportions. In fact, more than 6 out of 10 households in California cook with gas. Natural gas is an incredibly popular fuel choice for professional chefs and home cooks alike. Comparing gas versus electric stoves, appliance manufacturer, Whirlpool, explains why chefs love gas; “Gas ranges offer more responsive heat control for switching between searing meats or stir-frying veggies.” 

Despite the advantages, natural gas is also under attack. In a highly-publicized news release, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-VA), along with a coalition of other Democrats, urged the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to address what they call the “high level of dangerous indoor air pollutants emitted by gas stoves.” Senator Booker’s arguments center on the ill effects of using natural gas disproportionately affecting lower socio-economic households.

The report the Senator references does indeed point to higher levels of methane and nitrogen oxide from gas stoves, which may cause respiratory issues in some individuals. However, the Department of Energy reports only “trace amounts of nitrogen” in LNG, making the risk reasonably minor. The report also notes range hoods and ventilation abate these issues and the main concern is for small, poorly-ventilated spaces. Interestingly, U.S. building code and indoor air quality regulations have jumped lightyears since sick building syndrome was first identified in a 1984 indoor air quality report issued by the World Health Organization. 

Policies and Regulations Directed Towards Natural Gas Hook-Ups

ANSI/ASHRAE Standards are now the internationally-recognized standards for ventilation system design and acceptable indoor air quality. This means any new property that meets current regulations is going to far exceed past standards with proper, healthy ventilation. So why target new construction? 

Some states are aggressively moving to ban natural gas hook-ups in new construction. State lawmakers in New York are moving to enact the first statewide ban on natural gas connections in new building construction sometime in 2023. “Growing the demand for natural gas is exactly what the world does not need right now,” said New York State Senator Brian Kavanagh in a Pew article.

On the other side of the equation is the gas industry stakeholders, which represents both supplier and consumer. National Grid, one of the UK’s largest electrical distribution, transmission, and system operators, refers to LNG as helping with what’s known as the “energy trilemma,” that of affordable, secure energy, that’s lowering carbon emissions and working towards net zero. 

LNG’s benefit thus becomes threefold: 

  1. Affordability: Fuel poverty is being showcased around the world with the continued uncertainty surrounding the European energy supply with the war in Ukraine. LNG helps provide affordable energy that helps ease the cost of living crisis we currently face. 
  2. Energy Security: By virtue of fuel source diversification, LNG also helps reduce the reliance on a single source. More supply means more logistical agility to help avoid sensitive geopolitical arenas worldwide. 
  3. Energy Transition: LNG also aids in the transition to renewables as it helps fill any capacity gaps in supply. Rainy or windless days reduce solar and wind respectively, allowing LNG to play the role of “pinch hitter,” when required. 

Blindly cutting off LNG because it’s a fossil fuel is as reckless as it is baseless. The facts simply don’t support the argument against LNG. LNG has proven itself to be a viable alternative fuel that can contribute to a measured, resilient, and systematic energy transition, rather than being weaponized in a politically-motivated witch hunt.

Is LNG Actually The Future of Energy? 

The Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) lists natural gas as a key component under its Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles section. 

According to the AFDC, “natural gas is a domestically abundant fuel that can have significant cost advantages over gasoline and diesel fuels.” The AFDC goes on to explain that the DOE is heavily invested in alternative fuels, like natural gas, and employs them in government fleets as it also seeks to “help the United States conserve fuel and lower vehicle emissions.” 

The DOE itself has long touted the benefits of LNG—” Natural gas plays a vital role in the U.S. energy supply and in achieving the nation’s economic and environmental goals,” and “For more than 40 years, the safety record of the global LNG industry has been excellent, due to attention to detail in engineering, construction, and operations.” 

Such glowing reviews for fossil fuel seem very at odds with a White House that seems hellbent on vilifying the entire oil and gas sector. Despite oil and gas far and above leading research and development into alternative energy, energy resiliency, and net zero, many prominent Democrats, including Biden-appointed Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, have continued to snub anything they deem as coming from greedy oil and gas barons. 

In discussing the Administration’s stance on supermajors like ExxonMobil, Granholm told the WaPo, “These companies need to focus less on taking every last dollar off the table, and more on passing through savings to their customers.” Keep in mind, the U.S. Secretary of Energy is a Cabinet-level position that oversees the entirety of federal energy policy. Per the White House, “members of the Cabinet are often the President’s closest confidants.”

Long Story Short,

If members of the President’s inner circle are so openly against oil and gas and so out of touch with how some 9.8 million Americans benefit from being employed in the industry, one must question how she will direct energy policy that is “of the people, by the people, for the people” (President Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863).

Author Tyler Reed

Author Bio

Tyler Reed began his career in the world of finance managing a portfolio of municipal bonds at the Bank of New York Mellon. Four years later, he led the Marketing and Business Development team at a high-profile civil engineering firm with a focus on energy development in federal, state, and local pursuits and picked up an Executive MBA from the University of Florida along the way. Following an entrepreneurial spirit, he founded a content writing agency servicing marketing agencies, PR firms, and enterprise accounts on a global scale. A sought-after television personality and featured writer in too many leading publications to list, his penchant for research delivers crisp and intelligent prose his audience continually craves.

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