Perry says gas exports address climate change better than Paris

Source: Umair Irfan, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2017

The United States is stepping forward with natural gas after stepping back from the Paris climate accord.

The nation is shrinking its carbon footprint by producing cheap natural gas and can do the same for other countries through exports, according to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“We have contributed to curbing global CO2 emissions through the increased use of natural gas, the use of cleaner-burning coal, the use of nuclear, hydro and renewables in our power portfolio,” Perry said at a press conference yesterday. “It’s American innovation and technology that’s driving this success, not some international agreement.”

With the recent rise in energy exports and more on the way, the Trump administration wants to use coal, oil and natural gas to exert “energy dominance.” That can strengthen allies and weaken adversaries, officials say, adding that hunger for U.S. fuels extends to nations that disagree with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The Department of Energy is a key player in that effort.

“At DOE, we’re focusing on streamlining the process for natural gas production and exports,” Perry said. “In fact, we’ve authorized two large-scale LNG [liquefied natural gas] export facilities as well as a design increase authorization for the Lake Charles [LNG] facility.”

He added that gas exports could accelerate the decline of dirtier energy sources.

“If you want to clean up your emissions, shifting from older, inefficient plants to LNG is a very good way to do that,” Perry said.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, also noted at the press conference that U.S. shale gas production will increase “substantially” over the next five years. It’s enough to cover domestic demand and export markets.

“There will be enough opportunities for U.S. shale gas to use domestically, especially for the manufacturing industry, but at the same time, there will be significant opportunities to export LNG to European and also Asian markets,” Birol said.

However, Samantha Gross, a fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution, was skeptical about brandishing natural gas as a foreign policy weapon and using it to fight climate change.

While natural gas-fired power plants produce less than half the greenhouse gas emissions of equivalent coal plants, the major component of natural gas, methane, is much more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.

Methane leaks at wells, at pipelines and in shipping could undermine the climate benefits of natural gas if not properly controlled.

“The one thing that concerns me is this administration’s goal of pulling back on environmental regulations around natural gas production,” Gross said. “If we’re going to advertise it as a positive, I hope we keep our house in order as far as keeping the emissions from the production stage under control.”

Gross added that energy-starved nations like Japan welcome the United States as a natural gas exporter, but there may not be enough fuel to make a significant dent in prices or change political calculations in some countries.

“I’m not sure there’s enough gas there to meet some of the geopolitical goals the administration is putting forward,” Gross said. “Are people happy to see another producer out there? Sure. Does it make a huge difference in our foreign policy? I sincerely doubt it.”