Chart: The US is now exporting more LNG than ever before

As the country pushes for clean energy at home, it is still sending record-breaking amounts of planet-warming fossil gas abroad.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

While the Biden administration touts the success of the Inflation Reduction Act and its other clean energy accomplishments, a contradictory trend is quietly unfolding: The U.S. is exporting record-breaking amounts of liquefied natural gas. In April, the country sent more LNG abroad than in any other month, ever — a milestone that contrasts sharply with the global need to stop burning planet-warming fossil fuels. 

The rise in U.S. LNG exports has in turn helped drive an increase in global trade of the fuel, which last year rose to record-high volumes. Global LNG exports ticked up by 5 percent compared to 2021 levels. Meanwhile, U.S. export volumes jumped 16 percent over the same period — an increase that helped the U.S. tie with Qatar for the dubious achievement of the world’s top LNG exporter. The U.S.’ rising export volumes are in part the result of increased fossil gas production, which grew by 4 percent last year.

The country’s growing LNG exports threaten not only its own goals for cutting carbon emissions but international climate targets as well. LNG operations create emissions — including via leaked methane, a very potent greenhouse gas — at nearly all points of production: the extraction of the gas itself, its transport via pipelines, the liquefaction operations and ultimately the end site where the gas is burned.

Less than a decade ago, the U.S. exported virtually no LNG. But starting in February 2016, the lower 48 states began exporting the fuel when the country’s first liquefaction terminal, built by gas giant Cheniere, opened in Louisiana. The country’s shift from being a major fossil-fuel importer to its current role as a leading fossil-fuel exporter was only made possible by the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking,” revolution, which leveraged novel drilling techniques to unlock massive amounts of cheap U.S. fossil gas.

The U.S. shows no signs of slowing down its push to dominate global LNG exports. In fact, the country is currently building infrastructure that would boost its LNG export capacity by 5.7 billion cubic feet per day by 2025, according to the Energy Information Administration. There are more than a dozen additional export terminals that have been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as a handful that have been proposed but not yet approved. The Environmental Integrity Project estimates that the new proposed LNG terminals alone could emit more greenhouse gases each year than 20 new coal-fired power plants.

The expansion could also come at a significant cost to environmental justice. Residents living near the sites of the new liquefaction and export terminals have pushed back against the buildout, citing concerns about air and water pollution impacts on nearby communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods, especially in the Gulf Coast, where most of the development is concentrated. Canary Media visited a community impacted by a proposed LNG terminal in Florida last year and talked to community members about their fight against the project.

As the U.S. attempts to lead the way on the global transition away from fossil fuels and to clean energy sources, the country’s rising prominence as a global LNG power broker could undermine those efforts.

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Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.