Freeport LNG is the operator of one of the largest U.S. export plants producing liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Following an explosion at its Texas Gulf Coast facility, the plant will close its doors for at least three weeks, raising the risk of shortages, especially in Europe.
Freeport LNG provides around 20% of U.S. LNG processing.
They disclosed the shutdown after appraising damage to the massive facility.
One industry analyst told Reuters the temporary shutdown would likely take 1 million tonnes of LNG off the market.
Residents Are Worried
Melanie Oldham, a resident of Freeport, heard three loud bangs the morning of the explosion and went outside to find out what was happening.
“It makes me feel like we are daily living with high risk of explosion, release of gas, public health issues for not only us in Freeport, but for all the people who go to those big beaches on Quintana Island,” said Oldham.
Oldham, a physical therapist and co-founder of Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water of Freeport and Brazoria County, said, “We don’t know what could have been released into the air or even the water.”
According to an incident report filed with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Thursday, the fire in the LNG terminal’s liquefaction delivery system resulted in excess emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds.
Gwendolyn Jones, 63, another longtime Freeport resident, said she was about a mile from the facility when she saw a white cloud hovering over it after the explosion.
Jones was concerned that Freeport residents weren’t evacuated or warned about the incident by local authorities.
She thought nearby residents should be given respirators to help reduce the risk of inhaling dangerous fumes.
Harold Doty, who lives on Quintana Island, warned that “there is still no emergency action plan for that plant” despite Wednesday’s explosion.
Global Demand For LNG Is High
The explosion came as US LNG exports to Europe were surging as part of the Biden administration’s plan to help European nations wean themselves off Russia’s fossil fuels.
According to federal data, U.S. LNG exports averaged 11.5 billion cubic feet per day during the first four months of this year.
That’s an 18% jump compared to the 2021 annual average.
Most of Freeport LNG’s exports were going to Europe, according to Rystad Energy.
Europe could offset the lost volume with increases from other facilities, said Emily McClain, vice president at Rystad.
Europe gets about 45% of its LNG from the U.S.
She said the rest comes from Russia, Qatar, and other sources.
Is Natural Gas Safer?
The fossil fuel industry characterizes LNG as a more climate-friendly alternative to coal and other dirty energy sources driving global warming.
However, environmentalists stress that LNG is a significant emitter of methane — a greenhouse gas roughly 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
“In the United States, natural gas accounts for more than one-third of carbon emissions and almost half of methane emissions,” notes Marisa Guerrero of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Water in Brazoria County and the Texas Campaign for the Environment said that the oil and gas industry has been benefiting from an ‘export boom’ sending gas and crude oil overseas in record amounts.
However, the boom has resulted in leaks, explosions, and wrecked communities back home — from flaring and pollution in the Permian Basin to eruptions on Quintana Island.
“Officials rarely disclose the contents of the tanks that explode, leaving residents to just have to wonder whether or not they are in danger,” the groups continued.
“The boom is also jeopardizing global climate agreements, as the window to rein in emissions is closing.”
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