We mentioned before that a major trade-off decision facing North America is coal vs conservation. Actually, that was something of an oversimplification.
Adding enough LNG import capacity in the next few years, combined with a sufficiently-low Federally imposed carbon cap in the US and Canada, could head hundreds of new coal and nuclear generators off at the climate pass*. And, the added LNG could play an important role in the sustainability of hybrid vehicle designs.
As long as gas supplies are adequate, gas fired generators are easier to permit, far cheaper to build, and vastly cleaner to operate than coal-fired generators* *. Some would argue that natural gas has a lower carbon footprint than nuclear power if an objective comparison is made over the full product life cycle. For the moment, however, let's hold off on the merits of adding nuclear plants. Taxpayers are going to be shocked once they find out what it would cost in public subsidies to build hundreds of new nuclear stations. That makes for a pretty uncertain debate. We can be fairly certain of this strategic point: the sustainability trade-off between natural gas and coal is a near term issue that has great tactical significance for Congressional representatives considering whether to support a mandatory carbon cap.
Elected officials need to show that they are looking out for the electric bills of their constituents as well as working to mitigate climate change. Hemmed in by higher cost alternatives like mandating C02 sequestration for all new coal-fired plants or instituting a low enough carbon cap, they'll not be able support an effective climate management package if they are prevented from framing their support for it as a reasonable trade-off, given that natural gas will be a low-cost, clean, sustainable energy alternative.
If you agree that adding coal fired generation capacity is an unacceptable climate risk, then you should also agree we need all the alternatives to coal we can muster. LNG is one of the key alternatives. A handful of coastal locations either can assume the incremental risk of an LPG terminal Bleve or help accelerate the rate at which the planet goes down the climate tubes, and see the coastal cities for which LNG terminals were proposed get flooded.
Opposing LNG ports just because of the potential of increased local risk of fire or explosion is analogous (not similar) to opposing offshore wind turbines because of locally reduced shore property values and aesthetics: both hold the world's climate hostage. Both are self defeating on climate issues. Moreover, a similar risk posed by natural gas is an overlooked fact everyday fact of life* * *.
Caveats: multiple companies are proposing the candidate LNG sites. The overall effect of 64 proposed sites is one of mud being thrown on the wall to see what sticks. Obviously, only a subset of these will be permitted and a smaller number actually built. The proposals that 'don't stick' hopefully will be those which would clearly inconvenience peoples daily lives, severely impact fish and aquatic life, or require local government expense to compensate for other material and non-material losses. Additionally, Homeland Security definitely will have something to say if the owners of the port or ships are 'not our best friends,' for example.
But, if all one is basing opposition on is incremental personal risk of fire and explosion, then that needs to be looked at in terms of the incremental risk of climate change induced local flooding. (We doubt that anyone would publicly claim they don't care if the coastal flooding skips a generation or two - though they might feel that way.)
"Of the 64 sites, 49 are proposed projects in the United States, of which 13 hold one or more approvals, either from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or another U.S. agency."
"In Canada, two terminals have been approved, and another five potential sites are identified. In Mexico, three terminals have been approved and another five are considered potential."
"Additional proposals are frequently put forward by developers and more are expected in North America."
"Despite the aggressive response by U.S. gas producers to higher gas prices, domestic production is expected to remain flat, said Michael Zenker, managing director of global gas for Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Even the addition of proposed supplies from Canada's Mackenzie Delta and Alaska's North Slope are not ample to meet anticipated demand. "The supply response is not enough," he said."
A representative of the American Petroleum Institute is quoted as saying, "You can't drill your way out of this." Maybe they've been reading the green blogs?
* The coal/LNG tradeoff won't work if NIMBY outrage shuts down the addition of sufficient LPG terminals, or if Congress fails to enact a timely, low enough carbon cap.
* * Natural gas is one third hydrogen by weight. And very little of the "H" is associated with moisture. Conversely, coal is 40 to 85% carbon by weight, and much of the hydrogen content in coal is from moisture. While a great deal of the energy liberated from natural gas combustion is from formation of water by uniting hydrogen with oxygen, in coal, much of the energy liberated is from oxidation of carbon.
* * *A great many of us have near-infinite natural gas sources in our kitchens and somehow can live with that risk. It's called a gas range. Plenty of us have 20 to 140 pound cylinders of partly liquefied natural gas on your decks. A grille.