Liquefied gas versus clean energy
California utilities, including PG&E, are working with the Schwarzenegger administration to bring in a new fossil fuel: liquefied natural gas (LNG). Cooled to
-260º Fahrenheit, natural gas liquifies and shrinks to 1/600 of its original volume. LNG technology is used to ship natural gas across the globe on tankers the size of
In the oil and gas industry, LNG is hailed as the "next big thing", with companies vying for new gas fields in remote regions and proposing import terminals
in developed countries. Over a dozen LNG import terminals have been proposed along the West Coast from Baja to British Columbia, all of which would serve the
California market - if developers can get them built.
Industry representatives claim that LNG is "safe", though catastrophic explosions have occurred. Each tanker carries far more energy than was unleashed by
the Hiroshima atomic bomb. A containment breach and fire, caused by accident or sabotage, could melt steel at 100 yards and burn flesh over a half mile away. Because
of this danger and other environmental impacts, proposals to build LNG terminals in Vallejo and Eureka met fierce local opposition, and the plans were abandoned.
That isn't stopping PG&E from entering the LNG sweepstakes. The giant utility is investing in an LNG project that is to include an import terminal in the town of
Coos Bay, OR, and a 223-mile gas pipeline to California. If this project is realized, a large portion of the Bay Area's energy supply would come from LNG. This would be a
long-term commitment for new fossil fuels, at a time when both California and PG&E are promising to clean up our energy.
An LNG future looks like this.
- More greenhouse gases. Use of imported LNG would create 25% more global-warming emissions than domestic
natural gas due to the fossil-fuel energy needed to liquefy the gas at its source, ship it thousands of miles across
the ocean on a tanker, re-heat it with more natural gas at an import terminal, and send the empty tanker back to get
more. Climate scientist Richard Heede has estimated that the BHB Billiton LNG project proposed for Southern California
(off the coast of Oxnard and Malibu) would be responsible for 25 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, about as
much as 4.5 million cars. PG&E's LNG project will import more gas, traveling a greater distance with more potential
for pipeline leaks, than the one Heede surveyed.
- Energy insecurity. LNG comes from gas fields in remote areas of the world, where the multinational oil-and-gas industry has a destabilizing presence.
This is a recipe for unreliable supplies, higher prices, and environmental and social problems.
- For instance, a few years ago Bolivia was viewed as a potential source of LNG for California. When the people of Bolivia, however, learned that their natural gas
was going to be shipped abroad, they staged massive protests and elected a new president, who promises to use Bolivian natural gas for Bolivians.
- This past year the Russian government took regulatory enforcement action on the $20 billion Shell-led Sakhalin II oil-and-gas project in the Russian Far East.
The government was concerned about its share of revenues from the project, and also about the project's violations of environmental laws, that caused damage
to fisheries and other problems. In December it was announced that Gazprom (the government gas company) will purchase a majority share in the project, allowing
it more control of gas exports from Russia.
- Other potential sources of LNG for California include the Amazon rainforest, West Papua, Indonesia, and the North West Shelf of Australia, all associated
with environmental or human-rights abuses.
- Continued marginalization of renewables.
According to state policy, 1/3 of California's electricity should come from renewable energy by 2020, but
California is woefully behind on this goal. PG&E's renewable portfolio has actually dropped from 12.4% in 2002 to 11.9% in 2005. By meeting its goals, California could
reduce natural-gas usage by the equivalent of two LNG terminals, but if PG&E and other utilities tie themselves into 30-year and longer LNG contracts, this huge
financial commitment will push aside plans for renewables and conservation for a long time to come.
- Altering southern Oregon's landscape.
The LNG industry has had difficulty finding Northern California communities receptive to import terminals. It
is therefore trying to go north to Oregon, a state with only about 10% of California's natural-gas use. The dangers of LNG are of great concern to residents
and businesses near Coos Bay and the proposed pipeline. Further, the pipeline would require a permanent 100-foot-wide clearcut running through the region's
forests, watersheds, and salmon habitat. The pipeline would sever populations of species that need continuous forest cover such as the red tree vole.
The threat of LNG terminals has galvanized communities throughout North America. From rural Maine to Tijuana, local activists have beaten back this
attempt to keep the U.S. addicted to foreign fossil fuels. Ratepayers for Affordable Clean Energy (RACE) is a coalition of over 20 community groups from Baja
to Washington state who are fighting LNG both locally and regionally.
RACE urges California to conduct a needs assessment to evaluate whether, in light of California's clean-energy laws, LNG is needed. Along with the
California chapters of the Sierra Club, RACE believes that LNG has no place in California's energy future.
To work with the Sierra Club to keep LNG terminals from damaging the California coast, visit our
Great Coastal Places Campaign or call (213)
387-6528, ext. 211.
For more information on RACE, visit
San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler