Letter to Editor: The facts about Louisiana’s LNG industry

By Jason French

Special to the American Press

In 2012, Cheniere Energy began construction on the first major LNG export facility in America. A short decade later, their work, along with that of Cameron LNG, Venture Global and other LNG development companies, has established Southwest Louisiana as the epicenter of a globally consequential industry.

The planned LNG Center of Excellence at McNeese represents an important next step for the industry and the community that has embraced it. The Center will provide opportunities for Louisiana students to train and work in the sector. It will serve as a hub for research and best practices to assist industry in continually improving safety and environmental impacts. Most importantly, it will establish McNeese and Southwest Louisiana as a place where policy makers, media and others can come to learn the facts about LNG.

Retired General Russell Honore visited Lake Charles on Aug. 24 for a press event regarding LNG. Unfortunately, the general’s comments were not consistent with the facts. Such misinformation does a disservice to the community, the industry and policy makers who must address the region’s economic and environmental priorities. As the executive director of the LNG Center of Excellence, I feel obligated to set the record straight.

In a region that is ground zero for the effects of global climate change and rising seas, the general repeatedly claimed that LNG presents a dire threat to our coast. In fact, American LNG is one of the most important tools in addressing global warming. Even with a growing economy, America’s CO2 emissions have dropped by over 20 percent since 2005 for primarily one reason — expanded use of natural gas. Exporting natural gas can help other nations realize the same benefits.

It is estimated that if only the planned coal power plants in China were replaced with natural gas, it would reduce global emissions the equivalent of the entire U.S. renewable energy industry. When Chinese power plants displace coal with Louisiana natural gas, that positively impacts Louisiana’s coast.

Southwest Louisiana has been devastated by two major hurricanes, and unfortunately, it is a matter of when, not if, another storm will strike. Honore stated that, because of the potential for hurricanes, the LNG industry presents a dire safety risk for the region. Federal regulators place strict safety standards on every aspect of an LNG facility — including demanding steps to protect against the worst weather events. Louisiana’s LNG plants are built to withstand the most catastrophic storms, and all emerged unscathed from the devastation of Hurricanes Laura and Delta. To claim otherwise is not factual, and amounts to fearmongering to a recovering community.

Frustratingly, General Honore continues to spread the disproven myth that LNG facilities could create a two to three-mile-wide explosion. However, this myth runs afoul of the most basic scientific facts. LNG, because it contains no oxygen, will not burn in its liquid state, nor is it stored under pressure. If there were a release of LNG, it would vaporize and again become natural gas. Natural gas is lighter than air so it moves up when it encounters air. It would not travel miles away from its containment in search of an ignition source. The general’s claim is demonstrably false.

LNG facilities are manufacturing facilities at their core, and there are no manufacturing processes that involve zero chance of accidents. We saw this recently at the Freeport LNG plant in Texas, after an incident and fire took the facility offline for months. It is important to note that, as designed and as mandated by federal regulators, the incident was contained within the facility and did not impact neighboring communities.

Finally, as inflation rages across all sectors, the general solely blames the rise in domestic natural gas prices on LNG exports. Again, this conveniently ignores market realities. Since Cheniere began construction on its Sabine Pass export facility, total natural gas production in the United States has risen by over 50 percent. LNG exports have incentivized greater domestic production — resulting in additional supply for domestic needs as well.

We currently produce about 12 bcf per day more than we consume in the U.S. Not coincidentally we export approximately 12 bcf as well. Yes — there is great global demand for LNG today. However, American LNG companies cannot simply divert domestic supplies into the global marketplace based on pricing. They are limited by the finite exporting infrastructure that they have in place today, which allows them to export 12 bcf per day.

General Honore is an admirable man with an impressive career of service. He is simply ill informed about an industry that has already invested $34.5 billion in the state and placed Southwest Louisiana on the global map. LNG exports have undoubtedly benefited Southwest Louisiana and will for decades to come.

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Jason French is the executive director of the LNG Center of Excellence at McNeese State University.

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