U.S. greenlights exports from Alaska LNG project, sparks environmentalists’ reactions

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has approved exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Alaska Gasline Development Corporation’s (AGDC) proposed Alaska LNG project.

Alaska LNG liquefaction facility. Courtesy of AGDC

On 13 April, the U.S. DOE issued a document approving exports of LNG from the proposed Alaska project to non-free trade agreement (non-FTA) countries for a term of 30 years. If granted all required permits, the nearly $39 billion project would be operational in 2030.

The Alaska LNG project will consist of liquefaction facilities on the Kenai Peninsula designed to produce up to 20 million tonnes per year. It also includes an approximately 807-mile-long (1,300-kilometre), 42-inch-diameter pipeline capable of transporting up to 3.9 billion cubic feet of gas per day to the plant.

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The export approval for the project was first granted in August 2020, permitting this LNG to be exported in a volume equivalent to 929 billion cubic feet per year (Bcf/yr) of natural gas (2.55 Bcf per day), by vessel from the liquefaction facility to non-FTA countries.

However, the decision and the project were opposed by environmental groups. This resulted in an environmental review which concluded the project has important socioeconomic benefits and noted its environmental advantages over competing LNG projects.

Following this review and rehearing, the U.S. DOE modified the previous approval imposing a new condition prohibiting venting of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced along with natural gas and separated from it.

“Alaska LNG shall submit to DOE, as part of its monthly report, a statement certifying that the natural gas produced for export in the form of LNG in the prior month did not result in the venting of byproduct carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, unless required for emergency, maintenance, or operational exigencies and in compliance with the FERC Order”, the decision reads.

AGDC’s President Frank Richards stated: “With this supplemental record of decision, the Biden Administration has reaffirmed the authorization for and climate benefits of the Alaska LNG Project, which will provide Alaskans and U.S. allies with a significant source of low-emissions, responsibly produced energy consistent with international environmental priorities. Upon initial review, this supplemental decision adds to the record of support for Alaska LNG and we will review it carefully as our work developing this important project continues.”

Environmentalists’ reactions

Environmentalist groups responded to this decision saying it “greenlights another carbon bomb, one of the largest U.S. infrastructure projects ever proposed”.

Earthjustice is currently representing environmental groups in challenging another key approval for the Alaska LNG project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

“With DOE and FERC approvals, the Alaska LNG export terminal now has most of the approvals needed for it to move forward. The ultimate fate of the project, however, is far from certain. The DOE order also grants the Center for Biological Diversity and Cook Inletkeeper leave to intervene, clearing the way for both organizations, along with Sierra Club, to potentially file additional legal challenges to DOE’s approval”, Earthjustice said.

Erin Colón, an Earthjustice senior attorney based in Juneau, Alaska, who led the FERC litigation, commented: “Not only is the Alaska LNG project unnecessary given the widespread transition to clean-energy alternatives we expect to see in the years to come, it’s also a major threat to ecosystems and climate in Alaska. The state’s greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels would balloon by nearly 30% over today’s levels, in an era where all other states will be scrambling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is also happening in a place that is uniquely impacted by climate change — with sea-ice melt, thawing permafrost, and coastal erosion. It’s frustrating to see the Department of Energy rubber-stamp a massive fossil-fuel infrastructure project of this kind when it clearly conflicts with the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis.”

Liz Jones, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, stated: “Right after the horrific Willow decision, it’s painful to see Biden officials greenlight an even bigger fossil fuel project that will destroy Arctic habitat and feed the climate crisis. This project will send billions of cubic feet of gas a day across Alaska and through waters teeming with wildlife, all to be burned up on foreign shores into our overheating atmosphere. The Alaska LNG project should never have been approved.”

Friends of the Earth said it has filed an open records request of the AGDC, targetting communications between AGDC staff and their lobbyists at Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck–including Samantha Carl-Yoder, the former Chief of Staff to Amos Hochstein, the Special Presidential Coordinator for Global Infrastructure and Energy Security.