Big Phil under fire for ‘win-win’ comment on US LNG import

Published by Niall Sargent on

January 17th, 2020

Phil Hogan has come under fire for describing liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the US to Europe as a “win-win” for both trading partners.

Offering the keynote address at an event in Washington on “refreshing transatlantic relations”, the new European Commissioner for Trade said that the EU is absolutely committed to a “strong and positive bilateral agenda” with the US.

Although his speech focused more generally on trade regulations and tariffs, ‘Big Phil’ offered the increase in LNG  imports as an example of how the EU is “delivering results” on a bilateral trade agenda.

The trade arrangement was agreed between the US President Donald Trump and then President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in July 2018.

The US fracking industry has seen a bumper rise in exports to the EU since the trade agenda was agreed. A recent report  by Food and Water Europe found that LNG exports to Europe increased by 181 per cent in the year following the launch of the trade arrangement.

Several Irish and international NGOs took to social media last night to criticise Mr Hogan’s LNG support that they say is helping to prop up an ailing US fracking industry that is increasingly reliant on the EU market for its survival.

The majority of LNG exported from the US comes from the fracking industry. Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a process for extracting shale gas by drilling into rocks and injecting pressurised water, sand and various chemicals to force out the gas. The industry is linked to numerous environmental and health problems, and was banned in Ireland in 2017.

Activists outside Port of Cork pic Shamim Malekmian

Fine Gael ‘out of touch’

Speaking today, Green Party Councillor Lorna Bogue said that the comments from Mr Hogan – a former Minister for the Environment under the Fine Gael-Labour government – were a reflection of a lack of commitment from Fine Gael to tackling the climate crisis.

Ms Bogue, a candidate for Cork South Central in the general election, opposes plans to use the Port of Cork as a hub for LNG imports from the US.

In December, Rebekah Hinojosa of the US anti-fracking group Save Rio Grande Valley was in Cork to protest the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Port of Cork and American energy company NextDecade that plans to run a pipeline through her Texas community.

“[Fracking] goes further than the concept of our environment,” Cllr Bogue continued. “There’s an immediate human element to this as well. Fracking of gas primarily takes place within poorer areas and near indigenous communities, and it can cause health issues for people living there right now.

“To call this a win-win shows how shallow the thinking Fine Gael put into things when public good and the climate crisis come into conflict with profitability and monetary gain,” she added.

Extinction Rebellion Fracking protest Photo: Niall Sargent

Shannon LNG opposition

Public opposition to another planned LNG terminal at the mouth of the Shannon estuary reached fever pitched last year as climate activists were joined by actor Mark Ruffalo and singer Cher in calling on the Government to withdrawn the terminal from a list for priority EU energy projects.

The Projects of Commons Interest (PCI) list – now in its fourth edition – grants access to a streamlined planning and permitting process. Projects are also eligible for access to a multi-billion euro funding pot despite the EU’s commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

Last month, several activists groups from across Irish, Europe and the US called on the Commission’s energy division to carry out a review of the decision to approve the inclusion of several gas import terminals on the PCI list.

The groups, including Food & Water Europe and Friends of the Earth Ireland, argue that the Commission broke its own rules by failing to consider the climate or sustainability impacts of the proposed projects in its decision-making process as mandated under EU regulations.

Appearing before the Parliament’s energy committee last October, the deputy director-general of the energy division, Klaus-Dieter Borchardt, confirmed that no environmental or sustainability impact assessment was carried out.

Kate Ruddock of Friends of the Earth Ireland questioned how European citizens can trust the Commission “when it does not even follow its own rules”. The PCI list is currently before the European Parliament.

“The failure to assess the climate and sustainability impacts of major energy infrastructure projects is unacceptable and must be corrected before MEPs vote on whether or not to approve the entire list of projects in February,” Ms Ruddock added.

LNG Tanker Photo: Joachim Kohler Bremen
LNG Tanker Photo: Joachim Kohler Bremen

US states oppose LNG rail transport

Mr Hogan’s speech came just days after more than a quarter of US states outlined their opposition to proposed rules to allow for cross-state rail transport of LNG. The draft rules developed by the Department of Transportation come on the back of an executive order signed by Mr Trump last year.

On Monday, the attorneys general in 16 states, including New York, Michigan, Maryland and California, sent a letter to the Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to request the withdrawal of the pending proposal.

The letter from the top legal officers outlines their concern that the proposal is both unlawful and a public safety risk, calling for strict safety and environmental assessments to be carried out.

“The Proposed Rule would allow LNG—an extremely cold ‘cryogenic liquid’ that is flammable and odorless—to be transported through densely populated areas, potentially in unit trains of up to 100 tank cars operated by just one person, on the same rail lines used by high speed passenger trains, with inadequate safety precautions,” the letter reads.

“PHMSA’s failure to take the public safety hazards posed by these conditions seriously is alarming,” the attorneys general letter warns. The National Transportation Safety Board has also outlined concerns over the safety of transporting large quantities of LNG by rail as there are a limited number of specialised rail cars available in the US that can safely transport LNG shipments.

At present, LNG can only be transported by rail with a special permit. A subsidiary of New Fortress Energy – the company that owns Shannon LNG – was recently granted a special rail permit to transport LNG from its proposed liquefaction facilities in Pennsylvania.

The subsidiary – Energy Transport Solutions – plans to send the gas to a prospective export facility along the Delaware River in New Jersey from where it will be exported to the international market in Europe and further afield.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London