A major deal that will see the US ramp up its supply of gas to Europe in an attempt to shift away from Russian fossil fuel imports risks “disaster” for the climate crisis, environmental groups have warned.
Under the agreement, unveiled on Friday, the US will provide an extra 15bn cubic meters of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the European Union this year. This represents about a tenth of the gas the EU now gets from Russia, which provides 40% of the bloc’s total gas supply.
The increased gas exports from the US will escalate further, with the EU aiming to get 50bn cubic meters of gas a year from America and other countries in order to reduce its reliance upon Russia after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Joe Biden, who announced the deal during a trip to Brussels, said the increased supply will ensure “families in Europe can get through this winter” while also hampering Vladimir Putin, who has used gas income to “drive his war machine”.
But environmental groups have reacted to the agreement with alarm, arguing that it will help embed years of future gas use at a time when scientists say the world must rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“We should be rapidly transitioning to affordable clean energy, not doubling down on fossil fuels,” said Kelly Sheehan, senior director of energy campaigns at the Sierra Club. “Reducing reliance on fossil fuels is the only way to stop being vulnerable to the whims of greedy industries and geopolitics.”
The US has in recent years become a net exporter of energy, with fracking technology helping draw upon its huge reserves of gas. When frozen into LNG, this gas can be loaded on to ships and exported around the world. The US is already running at near capacity for the amount it is able to ship out.
However, there are 16 proposed LNG terminals dotted along the US’s Gulf of Mexico coast that have already been awarded the necessary federal permits to proceed with construction. The deal with the EU could make these projects, which would take several years to build and operate, possibly for decades to come, appear more viable than previously.
“Allowing for the expansion of new and expanded gas export facilities would lock in decades of reliance on risky, volatile fossil fuels and spell disaster for our climate and already overburdened Gulf coast communities,” said Sheehan.
Biden has insisted the plan will not compromise his climate goals, claiming that the war in Ukraine will act as a “catalyst” for the deployment of renewable energy.
The US and EU have pledged to work together to push forward approvals for solar and wind projects, plug leaks from gas pipelines that spew methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere and work on energy efficiency measures that will reduce demand for fossil fuels.
But climate activists warn time is running out to avoid disastrous global heating. The International Energy Agency has said that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built worldwide if the planet is to avoid 1.5C of heating above the pre-industrial era, a point beyond which scientists say will dramatically increase dangerous heatwaves, flooding, droughts, wildfires and displacement of people.
“Pushing new toxic export facilities and decades more methane gas is a death sentence for those on the frontlines of the climate emergency, and it won’t solve Europe’s current crisis,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
“Approving more export terminals, pipelines and fossil fuel production only throws fuel on the fire of our burning world.”