Biden administration stalls U.S. LNG project approvals to “reevaluate” climate criteria

Ruth Liao and Ari Natter, Bloomberg January 14, 2024

(Bloomberg) – The Biden administration is reevaluating the so-called climate criteria it uses to approve new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities, threatening to stall pending projects as the 2024 election nears.

Source: Commonwealth LNG

A panel of government officials convened by White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi met to develop a policy recommendation on the issue for President Joe Biden, according to two people familiar with the matter who weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The officials met on Jan. 6, one of the people said. Biden has been briefed on the issue but has yet to make a decision, a second person said.

The issue forces Biden to balance competing geopolitical and domestic priorities. He committed to providing more gas to Europe after Russia invaded Ukraine. But as the election nears, every fossil-fuel project approval under his watch is being scrutinized by climate-minded voters key to his reelection.

The Department of Energy, which issues export permits, is checking whether it’s properly accounting for the climate impact of proposed plants, Politico earlier reported, citing an unidentified senior U.S. administration official.

An Energy Department spokeswoman said the agency didn’t have any updates on its approval process. The White House didn’t immediately comment.

The U.S., which was the largest LNG exporter in the world in 2023, has five LNG export facilities under construction and several more permitted and awaiting a final investment decision. The plants chill natural gas to a liquid, allowing it to be loaded onto tankers and shipped around the globe. The U.S. began exporting LNG from its vast shale reserves in 2016, with demand picking up sharply after Russian gas flows to Europe sputtered following the country’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, called any bid to curtail U.S. LNG exports “shortsighted,” since it would thwart a shift away from coal-fired power to natural gas.

“If we limit the export of natural gas, we limit the ability to substitute cleaner burning natural gas for coal,” he said Wednesday at an American Petroleum Institute event in Washington.

Any push to change how export licenses are approved could effectively stall permitting in the meantime. Administration officials already warned industry representatives of potentially protracted delays for approvals to broadly export LNG during meetings at the COP28 summit, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Reviews of applications to broadly export LNG have stretched to more than 330 days under the Biden administration, up from 49 days under former President Donald Trump and 155 days under former President Barack Obama, according to the API.

“The signal that sends to our allies is very, very concerning: Is the United States going to be a source of LNG and a reliable partner into the future?” API Chief Executive Mike Sommers said in an interview. “Our allies are going to start asking that question if they make this determination.”

Venture Global, the operators of CP2, a proposed plant in Louisiana that’s awaiting approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, says the project, like other U.S. plants, will be key to the world’s push to move away from dirtier fuel sources, like coal.

“American LNG is the best weapon in our arsenal to quickly displace global coal use and combat climate change. NGOs and their paid activists have continually misled the public, making up their own facts to fit their agenda, when the data shows otherwise,” Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman for Venture Global, said in an emailed statement.

Compared to the two previous presidencies, the Biden administration has taken longer to approve LNG export licenses for new projects, according to data from LNG Allies, a trade group. A longer wait means delays in getting financing and customer commitments, potentially putting projects’ viability at risk.

The proposed Commonwealth LNG project in Louisiana has been waiting more than 400 days for its so-called non-FTA export permit from the DOE.

Compared to the FERC process, “we find there is far less feedback or visibility in DOE’s deliberations for us to understand the delay,” Commonwealth LNG Founder and Executive Chairman Paul Varello said in an emailed reply to questions. “With all our other permits in hand, we’re ready to move forward with the final steps toward financing and construction once the Non-FTA permit is secured.”

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