February 28, 2024

The Biden Administration is trying to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to fossil fuels and climate policy. The White House announced Friday (Jan. 26) that it was going to pause all pending approvals of natural gas export facility projects, including Calcasieu Pass 2 facility in Louisiana, which would have been the largest such site in the country. The government says the pause, which may seep into the 2024 presidential election, is part of a push to help cut down on the use of fossil fuels worldwide.

“This is the right call,” said Manish Bapta, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group, in a statement. “The stakes could not be higher — for the climate, U.S. leadership and our future. The administration needs to pause and get the facts. These are dangerous projects that would lock in decades more dependence on the fossil fuels driving us toward climate catastrophe.”

Breaks on the gas

For years, the US has been surging into dominance of the global natural gas market after having spent a long time as a net importer. Then, around 2005, huge discoveries of the stuff created a new gold rush that upended energy markets worldwide, making the US now the largest natural gas exporter in the world.

But that boom has had its downsides, as explored in the 2010 documentary Gasland. The drilling for the oil is done by “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, in which natural gas companies shoot special fluids into the ground to shake loose locked fuels. That process led to a lot of pollution, especially of groundwater for people living near the wells. Above ground, methane leaks and other byproducts deteriorated air quality for people who lived near natural gas infrastructure.

Part of the Biden announcement said that one reason for the pause was to “adequately guard against risks to the health of our communities, especially frontline communities in the United States who disproportionately shoulder the burden of pollution from new export facilities.”

Big oil projects, not-small irony

The Biden presidency has had a mixed record when it comes to environmental policy. Though he canceled oil exploration permits in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, he had previously approved new permits for the Willow project in Alaska’s North Slope. None of it made environmentalists very happy.

And when it comes to natural gas exports, the pause only applies to future projects. The policy announcement made very clear that the shipments are not stopping, even hailing that exports were expected to double by the end of the decade.

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