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LNG Is Harm Reduction For Energy

LNG Is Harm Reduction For Energy

April 30, 2024
Harm reduction is a helpful policy concept from the narcotics field that can be applied to energy and climate change. It recognizes that drug abuse occurs and seeks to minimize the negative consequences that drug use can bring, ideally improving (or saving) both the life of the user and of society.

Source: Forbes

For example, making naloxone available to first responders helps save lives that would otherwise be lost to drug overdoses, saving families from the loss of a loved one and communities from otherwise being ravaged by multiple drug-related deaths. Across our lives, in medicine and government, sliding scales of harm are acknowledged and inform policy.

The absence of this logic in the energy policy is questionable, especially when many of the same advocates of progressive harm reduction in education, drugs, crime, and social policy are unwilling to consider it when applied to the vital workings of entire societies that are, admittedly, currently “addicted” to fossil fuels. Everyone may agree that a warming earth can have negative consequences, but in the case of Germany facing the winter when Russian oil and gas became a nonstarter due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, few will voluntarily freeze through the winter.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is essentially a means of harm reduction for energy, yet activists attack it using the same absolutist logic that started the war on drugs or prohibition. LNG is quantifiably better for the environment than most other sources of energy, with oil and coal not only producing twice as much carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour but also dangerous particulates. If we did nothing but replace all current coal and fuel oil use with LNG, it would greatly alleviate our ecological crisis.

LNG could serve as a bridge fuel to aid the world in reducing emissions while other alternatives come online. Those who refuse to acknowledge this tar all fossil fuels with the same brush. Bill McKibben, a leftist co-founder of, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating fossil fuels, did just that when he celebrated a halt on approving new and near-completed LNG projects declared by the Biden Administration, touting it as a win for the environment.

It is no such thing. If Biden’s decision stands, emissions will only go up, as more coal and diesel will be burned to generate electricity.

Currently, green energy cannot replace fossil fuels. Solar and wind power are unevenly and intermittently available. Some parts of the globe aren’t very sunny, others aren’t windy, and many areas lack both, including at night. Even regions with good green tech potential won’t be able to go fully green with the technology developed to date. Optimists may argue that battery storage negates these handicaps, but little evidence suggests that today's storage batteries are a viable solution. Not yet.

Current battery chemistry relies on lithium, one of the least energy-dense materials known to man. Moreover, scaling up takes time. Even if we were to discover better battery chemistries tomorrow, we’d still be years away from a mass rollout. The world needs to get a stable supply, and as seen in Germany’s case, when the country simultaneously abandoned Russian gas and shut down three remaining nuclear reactors. Berlin instead turned to coal, which emits more than twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas.

The European Parliament noted the need for gas, as it passed a resolution welcoming suppliers. Germany, too, is readily embracing U.S. gas. In other words, even environmentally conscious Europeans, who generally have stronger environmental regulations than the U.S., disagree with McKibben.

Furthermore, batteries and many technologies that are supposed to replace LNG still have carbon dioxide emissions through their dependence on Rare Earth Elements (REEs). China practically monopolizes REE refining, meaning we need more reliable data on CO2 emissions there. With current production technologies, inputs between 30-55 kilowatt hours of production energy for every kilowatt hour of battery cell produced are par for the course. Furthermore, mining and refining REEs will localize a global externality, pawning off pollution to the developing world.

Green energy is not magic we can employ to minimize climate challenges, be they carbon emissions or the use of fossil fuels. As a continent, Europe imports most of its energy and relies heavily on outside suppliers. Despite concerted European efforts to wean the continent off Russian gas, one of these outside suppliers was and still is Russia. Some Russian gas continues to flow because Europe lacks options.

A quick ramp-up in U.S. LNG exports blunted the economic shock caused by Russia’s ejection from the market. If not for American LNG, these economic and social costs might have been unbearable. Europe, without the aid of U.S. LNG, is too weak. As Benjamin Lakatos, Chairman and CEO of MET Group, a major European LNG trader, notes, “Only 10% of the gas consumed in the EU is produced within the continent. The vulnerability of the EU due to its 90% import dependence is apparent, and LNG is a way to reduce this weakness.”

Companies like MET are helping minimize this vulnerability while embracing a harm-reduction approach. Not only does MET supply gas to Europe, but it’s also aiding Europe in expanding its solar and wind energy capacity. Entities like MET are proving that an integrated business model works – supporting both energy security of supply in Europe and the energy transition. In 2023, the group achieved its second-most profitable year, on the back of 24.5 billion EUR in revenue.

Lakatos is not alone. Didier Holleaux, President of Eurogas, noted that ‘price volatility’ is a real possibility ‘if U.S. supplies are unstable.’ To put Europe through another grueling price hike would, at best, cause economic pain and, at worst, lead it to abandon Ukraine. Already, Biden’s anti-LNG move has triggered a pushback, with Fredrik Persson, President of BusinessEurope, the largest EU business association, labeling it as “hugely concerning.”

Other claims made by some environmentalists have been equally unfounded. No evidence supports the idea that US LNG exports will increase electricity prices. Still, many insist they will, even though US gas prices have reached all-time lows despite a massive surge in LNG exports.

Remedying this should be easy, as the US has plenty of gas reserves. However, activists such as McKibben are laser-focused on claims that increasing the ability to export LNG will contribute to the US becoming the “planet wrecker in chief” without apparent regard for the consequences of failing to help Europe away from its dependence on Russian gas or the environmental impact of a Europe pressed into using more coal. Meanwhile, the Russian president shows no signs of quitting his imperial pursuits. Despite reaching out on two separate occasions, McKibben did not provide any comments on his position by the time of this publication.

As Russia is escalating hostilities in Ukraine and the Middle East becoming increasingly unstable, America must refrain from reneging on its role in the world as the energy security supplier of the last resort. The “arsenal of democracy” must also be the “fuel depot of democracy,” but that is only possible as long as America exports energy. Thankfully, this is an easy policy fix. Allowing American LNG to continue unencumbered can be paired with regulations utilizing AI-enabled software to detect methane leaks from gas pipelines. Blockchain technology can enable the smart tracking of LNG sales and pollution monitoring. We could also explore carbon offsetting.

We can develop sound policies to help the planet but shouldn’t compromise on the grand strategy: American LNG is necessary for both the climate and democracy worldwide. America must resume its LNG permitting to bolster both.