Communities on US LNG front line ask Biden to reject export terminal

Travis Dardar, a fisherman and member of the Isle de Jean Charles Tribal Community off the coast of Louisiana, has twice been displaced by fossil fuels.

Rising sea levels forced him and his tribal nation to move in 2016 from the island where they had settled in the 1830s to escape the Trail of Tears, the forced displacement of Indigenous tribes by the US government. “If anybody’s seen climate change, I’m that guy. I watched that place disappear right before my eyes,” he told Al Jazeera.

He resettled in Cameron Parish, a Louisiana coastal community where he could make a living working in one of America’s largest fishing industries, but he was displaced again in August by the construction of Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass 2, a liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal that is being built to ship fossil fuels overseas. He took a buyout in August and moved away from the site and is now commuting two hours to Cameron for oyster season.

He said LNG terminals are threatening his livelihood in the fishing industry.

After a decade-long fracking surge, the United States has become the world’s largest LNG exporter. The Gulf of Mexico sits at the front lines of America’s LNG export boom with massive terminals expanding along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Called “clean energy” by the fossil fuel industry, LNG is in fact mostly methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

President Joe Biden’s administration now faces a huge climate decision: whether to approve Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass 2 (CP2), one of more than 20 proposed LNG export terminals. CP2 can’t export to certain countries unless the Department of Energy rules it is in the public interest. The LNG would mostly be exported to Europe, which is moving away from Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will make a decision on CP2 as soon as this month. After FERC’s decision, the Department of Energy will determine whether an export licence for CP2 is in the public interest.

Venture Global did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, the company has argued the project will bring more than 1,000 permanent jobs to Cameron Parish and LNG can replace coal in some countries to bring down emissions.

But a new paper by a leading methane scientist found that, when the entire lifecycle of exported LNG is considered, it can be 24 percent worse than the lifecycle of coal.

‘A shrimp-pocalypse’

BP agrees settlement for victims of Gulf of Mexico oil spill
BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster took four years to clean up [US Coast Guard handout via EPA]

In November, Dardar travelled to Washington, DC, along with other Louisiana activists to protest CP2 in front of the Department of Energy and Venture Global buildings. He helped deliver a petition to the department with 200,000 signatures against the project.

Louisiana is the largest seafood producer in the lower 48 US states. The industry has retail, import and export sales totalling more than $2bn and employs more than 26,000 people in the state.

But Dardar said LNG companies have bought up and torn down the fishing docks, and the Coast Guard tells fishermen to get out of the way of the LNG tankers or they will be arrested. He said last year, a huge wave from a tanker ripped pieces off his boat.

The oyster, shrimp and fish populations are vulnerable to climate change and oil spills. The region suffers frequent oil spills, including BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in 2010, which spilled 200 million gallons (760 million litres) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and took four years to clean up. Most recently in November, 1 million gallons (3.8 million litres) of oil leaked off Louisiana’s coast.

If LNG construction continues, Dardar fears the fishing industry will collapse. “You’re talking about a shrimp-pocalypse,” he said.

The US, the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, is on pace to set a record for extraction of fossil fuels. That includes breaking records for gas production. In the process, not only is the US not on track to meet its emissions reduction targets, the emissions from exported LNG are not included in the domestic math and remain uncounted.

Environmental groups, members of Congress and Louisiana residents are calling on the Biden administration to deny the CP2 permit.

A group of lawmakers sent a letter in November asking Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to reject the project, saying the lifecycle emissions of all existing proposed LNG terminals would be equivalent to 681 coal plants. CP2 alone would amount to 20 times the emissions of the Willow Project, a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska that the Biden administration approved in March.

Senator Jeff Merkley, one of the letter signers, told Al Jazeera: “The United States has been promoting a massive myth, which is that fossil gas is better than coal for the climate. That is a huge disservice to the world because it is scientifically wrong, and also it undermines our legitimacy in the climate conversation. It’s convenient because we’re shutting down coal mines and instead we’re increasing fracking and gas.”

“We’ve built seven export facilities, and the next one, CP2, becomes a point where we can focus our attention on this — what is essentially a big myth, or a big lie perpetrated by the US government that undermines our efforts to have humanity address this key problem,” Merkley said.

He said if the US isn’t doing its part on climate, it allows other countries to continue to extract fossil fuels too. “Because if America isn’t going to change its habits when it’s the biggest historical producer of carbon dioxide, [others can say] why should we change ours?”

Health impacts

A plume of smoke from an oil burn is seen near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana
Residents living near the LNG plants are experiencing health effects alongside those of climate change [Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo]

The fishing industry is not the only community impacted by the LNG boom. Residents living near the LNG plants are experiencing health impacts alongside climate change.

Roishetta Ozane, founder and director of the Vessel Project of Louisiana and a mother of six children, was one of the activists who delivered the petition to the Department of Energy in Washington.

She said the LNG terminals are polluting the air and sea level rises from climate change are submerging wetlands and replacing groundwater with saltwater.

“There is nothing safe about LNG — it’s greenwashed and should be called LMG [liquefied methane gas] because of the methane pollution it emits,” she wrote in a text to Al Jazeera. “There’s only one person who can put a stop to this injustice: President Biden.”

Cameron resident John Allaire, who worked for decades in the oil and gas industry before he retired, stood on his porch and looked down the coast, where only a mile (1.6km) away, he can see a huge flare from Venture Global’s Calcasieu Pass, an existing LNG plant. The company’s proposed CP2 terminal would be built nearby. A horn sounded as a tanker next to the plant prepared to leave the dock.

When Allaire first moved to his property in the 1990s, there was no industrial pollution, and he could see the stars at night. Now the flares light up the sky “like Las Vegas”. He and his wife often smell fumes from the plant. “When we get the wind out of that direction, it literally gets hard to breathe out here,” he said.

He has experienced powerful hurricanes, including one in 2005 with a storm surge so high that it swept his house out to sea. The hurricanes leave debris in their wake that dries out and becomes fuel for wildfires. This year, Louisiana saw an extreme drought, and a wildfire threatened Allaire’s home before it was extinguished.

“It’s silly, what we’re doing — this huge experiment to see how much carbon we can put into the atmosphere,” he said.

He described a rush now to get oil and gas out of the ground and sell it as fast as possible. “It’s capitalism at its finest — just monetize it as quick as you can and to heck with the consequences.”

Back on his boat, Dardar said he hopes the Department of Energy rejects the permit for CP2.

“Don’t nobody come to Louisiana to see LNG plants. They come for the seafood. They come for the Cajun music. They come for the gumbo,” he said.

“If they give them their permits, we’re gonna continue fighting, that’s for sure. I’m gonna fight until they put me in the ground if that’s what it takes.”

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