Biden administration threatens global energy security with LNG export freeze

Ari Natter, Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Ruth Liao, Bloomberg January 26, 2024

(Bloomberg) – The Biden administration on Friday halted the approval of new licenses to export U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) while it scrutinizes how the shipments affect climate change, the economy and national security — a moratorium likely to disrupt plans for billions of dollars in projects.

The Energy Department study will build on an existing analysis that underpins the agency’s review of proposals to send more natural gas to European, Asian and other countries that are not U.S. free-trade partners. New exports are vetted on a case-by-case basis to see whether they are in the public interest — a threshold established by federal law — but government assumptions used in those reviews haven’t been updated since 2018.

“We will take a hard look at the impacts of LNG exports on energy costs, America’s energy security and our environment,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.  

The move strikes at the heart of the debate over LNG’s role in the future of energy. While advocates contend it’s crucial for getting developing nations to stop using coal and enabling Europe to power its economy without Russian gas, environmentalists claim that building the infrastructure required to ship LNG ensures it will be burned for years.  

The permitting halt drew swift condemnation from oil industry leaders and their supporters on Capitol Hill. Senator Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat from West Virginia who leads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, vowed to hold hearings investigating the decision.

“If this pause is just another political ploy to pander to keep-it-in-the-ground climate activists at the expense of American workers, businesses and our allies in need, I will do everything in my power to end this pause immediately,” Manchin said.

The review, which won’t affect previously granted authorizations or immediately shake the U.S. status as the world’s top LNG exporter, will be conducted by the Energy Department’s national labs. After a report is published and made available for comment, it will be finalized and incorporated into the agency’s public interest determinations. The entire process is likely to stretch well past the Nov. 5 presidential election.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the plan would not put a firm timeline on the process, saying only that it would be done expeditiously and take several months.

The pause is subject to exceptions for “unanticipated and immediate national security emergencies,” according to a White House fact sheet.


The Energy Department on Friday promised to “use the most complete, updated and robust analysis possible” on market, economic, national security and environmental considerations. That includes “current authorized exports compared to domestic supply” and related greenhouse gas emissions, the agency said in a news release.

“A lot has happened in the past decade since this program was created, and we need to have an even greater understanding of the market need, the long-term supply and demand of energy resources, and the environmental factors,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.

The pause could have implications for more than a dozen proposals now awaiting review at the Energy Department, including ventures planned in Louisiana by Commonwealth LNG and Energy Transfer LP.

Republicans — including former President Donald Trump — have accused Biden of making a priority of his climate agenda at the expense of domestic jobs and other economic concerns.

“President Biden’s decision to indefinitely pause LNG export permits prioritizes the wishes of radical liberals over U.S. energy security and the security of our allies,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Everyday Americans want our energy unleashed to strengthen the economy, safeguard jobs and keep us secure.”

White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi said the government’s existing analysis was outdated and didn’t reflect evolving information about how much methane — the prime ingredient in natural gas — could warm the atmosphere. Earlier studies were completed in 2012, 2015 and 2018.

Natural gas burns more cleanly than coal — and the oil and gas industry argues that’s one reason to bolster exports, not halt them.

LNG advocates excoriated the administration’s decision, saying it would chill development and undercuts U.S. promises to help Europe wean off Russian gas. U.S. flows of LNG to Europe already surpassed the 50 Bcmg annually the bloc sought after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Marty Durbin, president of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute called the move “deeply disturbing” and a betrayal of allies. Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said the administration was “playing politics with global energy security.”

No review is “needed to understand the clear benefits of US LNG for stabilizing global energy markets, supporting thousands of American jobs and reducing emissions around the world by transitioning countries toward cleaner fuels,” Sommers said.

Already, 10 North American projects have won the Energy Department’s blessing to export U.S. LNG, but they remain in various stages of development. The U.S. has seven other LNG projects currently operating, and an additional 12 billion cubic feet a day of export capacity still could be constructed just under existing approvals.

Four projects will be hardest hit because they have gone through initial permitting and undergone a separate required review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission yet are effectively blocked without a final export license from the Energy Department.

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