Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay is the latest battleground in a campaign to halt the export of fracked gas and slow the damage done by increased drilling. The protesters were arrested at a sit-in in front of the headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, after demanding that the agency reject Dominion Energy’s application for an export facility at Cove Point in Lusby, MD.
“I think it’s great that FERC employees had an inconvenience getting to work today, because they inconvenience a lot of people,” Alex Lotoro, one of the arrestees told DeSmogBlog.
Lotoro says that FERC employees are removed from the frontline impacts, so protestors brought the impacts to them. "They have to see the faces of the people they’re affecting,” he said. “That makes me feel better, because they have to deal with a little bit of what we’re dealing with every day.”
Linda Morin, a member of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, a local group in the Cove Point, MD area, lives about a mile from what is currently a licensed LNG import facility. In a conference call before the Sunday rally, she spoke about the dangers of Dominion’s proposed expansion. “Our community had never been informed about the potential risk that we’ve faced since 2006 of fatal flash fires should a major leak lead to a vapor cloud and ignite,” she said. “The expansion will increase those risks by orders of magnitude and pose additional risks to our population.”
Across the country, energy companies are applying for and receiving permits to liquefy and export shale gas. The Cove Point facility will cost Dominion $3.8 billion and allow the company to export a proposed 5.25 million tons of gas per year starting in 2017. Demand abroad for natural gas has the potential to intensify the level of drilling, and while this might be good for the nation’s gross domestic product, it’s bad news for the community members whose lives and land have been impacted by water, air and safety hazards caused by fracking.
Currently, FERC is considering applications for as many as 14 LNG export terminals, and two have already been approved at Coos Bay, Oregon and Hackberry, Louisiana. In both cases, the Department of Energy argued that opponents did not demonstrate how export facilities that yielded net economic benefits to the U.S. would be inconsistent with the public interest.
The natural gas boom has been billed as America’s ticket to energy independence. Dominion CEO Thomas F. Farrell II credits fracking for starting a global energy revolution, likening the U.S. to a “new Middle East.” And while President Obama has used the Environmental Protection Agency to cap emissions from coal-fired power plants, he has called natural gas a “bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.”
When burned, natural gas releases about half as much carbon dioxide as coal. Yet many activists, scientists and journalists contend that the greenhouse gas footprint is much larger than is often represented by industry proponents when methane leaks are taken into account.
Exporting LNG could increase that footprint even further. “Just the refrigerators required to liquefy LNG add on enormous fossil fuel energy on top of the already very leaky greenhouse gas footprint from the fracked gas itself,” biologist and fracking activist Sandra Steingraber said during the conference call.
Since the advent of fracking, U.S. natural gas production has risen from 18 trillion cubic feet in 2005 to 24 trillion cubic feet in 2013. Currently, domestic prices are low—$4.31 per million Btu—but as supplies have increased, energy companies have begun looking toward foreign markets to bolster demand. If prevailing policies remain unchanged, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that the U.S. will become a net exporter of LNG by 2016.
According to Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program and a speaker at the Sunday rally, as more export facilities open, the domestic price of gas will increase. “The industry is highly attuned to the market price of the commodity that they are pulling out of the ground,” said Slocum. “What LNG exports is all about is providing opportunity for domestic drillers to sell their natural gas for a price higher than what is currently charged in the United States.”
FERC is set to finalize its decision on Dominion’s permit to export LNG in August. If the application is approved, activists will consider a number of options, including an appeal to the US Court of Appeals, or asking the Department of Commerce to enforce a section of the 1975 Energy Policy & Conservation Act that prohibits the export of both crude oil and natural gas produced in the U.S. While a ban on crude oil exports is still in effect, the Commerce Department never followed through in writing rules banning the export of natural gas.