Europe plan for floating gas terminals raises climate fears

In an effort to replace the natural gas they once purchased from Russia as winter approaches, European countries have adopted a temporary solution: a network of around 20 floating terminals that would take liquefied natural gas from other nations and transform it into heating fuel.

However, the proposal, with the first floating terminals scheduled to provide natural gas by the end of the year, has alarmed experts who are concerned about the scheme’s long-term effects on the environment. They caution that new terminals would maintain Europe’s dependence on natural gas, which when generated, transported, and consumed generates climate-warming methane and carbon dioxide.

Some experts express concern that the floating terminals might wind up providing Europe’s enormous energy demands for years or perhaps decades. Such a tendency may hinder emission-reduction initiatives, which experts claim haven’t advanced quickly enough to stop the harm being done to the environment on a worldwide scale.

The majority of the LNG that Europe expects to import is anticipated to originate from the United States. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine damaged its relations with Europe and resulted in the loss of the majority of the natural gas that Moscow had long supplied, a need developed. Export terminals are growing throughout the Gulf Coast of the United States, and many locals are concerned about the surge in gas drilling and the subsequent loss of land as well as the drastic weather changes brought on by burning fossil fuels.

The construction of this massive LNG infrastructure, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist John Sterman, “will lock the globe into continuous dependence on fossil fuels and significant climate harm for decades to come.”

Both when it is consumed, turning into carbon dioxide, and via leaks of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, natural gas plays a key role in climate change. However, to help make up for the loss of Russian natural gas, European countries, which have long been pioneers in the transition to greener energy, have suggested putting more than 20 floating LNG facilities into their ports.

The terminals can store over 6 billion cubic feet (170,000 cubic meters) of LNG and transform it into gas for homes and businesses. They tower above dwellings and are almost 1,000 feet (304 meters) long. The International Gas Union claims that although they are more expensive to run, they can be erected more quickly and more cheaply than onshore import terminals.

Every nation must be ready for the possibility of a reduction in Russian supply, according to Rystad Energy expert Nikoline Bromander. “You need to have a backup plan if you are dependant.”

Many environmental experts contend that the funds designated for the ships, which Rystad estimates cost $500 million apiece to construct, would be better used to hasten the adoption of renewable energy or efficiency improvements that may lower energy use.

It would take years to build more solar or wind farms, so Russian gas wouldn’t be replaced right away. Greater energy efficiency in homes, buildings, and industries, together with the use of wind, solar, and other technologies, however, might significantly lessen Europe’s need to replace all the gas it has lost, according to Sterman’s suggestion.

According to Global Energy Monitor, Germany, one of Europe’s main supporters of the floating LNG terminals, is anticipating five of the ships and has committed around 3 billion euros to the project. Additionally, Germany has adopted legislation that would expedite the construction of the ports and postpone the need for environmental reviews.

Environmental organizations are troubled by this action.

Sascha Müller-Kraenner, CEO of Environmental Action Germany, said that “it is clearly evident” that “the terms of the bill were established in close consultation with the gas sector.”

The government and energy sector of Germany have justified their support for the LNG terminals as an immediate reaction to the loss of the majority of the Russian gas they had long been receiving, which they fear Moscow would fully cut off.

According to a statement from Germany’s energy sector group, BDEW, “in an extraordinary case such as this, when it’s an issue of Germany’s gas supply security, it is reasonable to hasten the licensing procedure.”

German Economy and Energy Ministry spokesperson Susanne Ungrad emphasized that methane emissions are being reduced in exporting nations like the United States. And she said that authorities in Europe will carry out thorough studies before moving forward with the development of LNG facilities.

Greig Aitken, an analyst at Global Energy Monitor, pointed out that contracts with American LNG providers for a port scheduled to operate close to Gdansk, Poland, had been inked that go far beyond 2030. Due to this, the European Union may have trouble achieving its target of lowering greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.

According to Rystad Energy, floating LNG facilities are proposed for many countries, including Italy, Greece, France, the Netherlands, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom.

Supporters contend that the ships may help the environment in specific situations. They point out, for instance, that towns in Germany and other countries have started burning coal, which normally emits more emissions than natural gas, as Russian gas supplies have decreased. This would be less required if the natural gas supply were increased.

Methane leaks may still happen often throughout the natural gas delivery chain. Therefore, in certain circumstances, using natural gas may not have a better overall climate impact than burning coal.

Continued use of the existing fossil fuel infrastructure, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, would result in global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). Heat would be anticipated to exacerbate the deadly climate change-related flash floods, high heat waves, powerful storms, and longer-burning wildfires at that altitude.

The doubling down on fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe, which has been the center of so much energy, activity, and aggressive emissions goals, is a little depressing, according to Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Brown University.

Three new export terminals are being built in the United States, which is the region’s main export market for LNG heading for Europe. Four extensions and eleven more terminals are now in the planning phases. Ira Joseph, a veteran energy expert, said that certain export ports that had trouble attracting funding are now seeing greater investment and interest.

They’re signing sales and buy agreements left and right, as you’ve seen over the last two months, Joseph added.

For instance, environmental opposition last year seemed to halt the construction of the Rio Grande LNG export plant that Next Decade had envisioned for Brownsville, Texas. However, long-term agreements to purchase LNG from the port were struck this spring by a French firm, Engie, and a number of customers in Asia. According to Next Decade, it is now expected to have all the funding it needs.

Global LNG prices have increased due to Europe’s gas shortage, prompting purchasers in China and other countries to sign long-term contracts with American suppliers. According to Rystad analyst Bromander, American LNG exports will probably increase by 10 million tons during the next year.

The floating LNG ships are marketed as a temporary fix to maintain gas supply for a few years until more sustainable energy sources like wind and solar are developed. However, detractors claim it’s implausible that a ship designed to survive a long time would stop running after a few years.

The floating terminals may be utilized anywhere in the globe once they are constructed. Therefore, the ships might sail off to another port, virtually locking in the usage of natural gas for decades, if European governments decide they no longer want floating LNG facilities as they switch to greener energy.

Environmental organizations claim that in certain instances, notably in Germany, some of the planned floating terminals seem to be preparing the way for on-shore terminals that would be constructed to endure 30 to 40 years, much beyond the time when countries should be using fossil fuels.

Are they really going to say, “Oh, let’s take it to the scrap yard,” once the war is over and, as we all hope, peace is restored? Sterman enquired. “They won’t do it,” I said.

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