Trump vs Biden: Deep Split Over Future Of US Shale Gas
The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF)/by bennypeiser/
Gone are the days when US policymakers broadly agreed on the role of natural gas as a “bridge” to a low-carbon future. As the 2020 US presidential race proves, the partisan divide on the issue has widened and deepened.
President Donald Trump continues to see gas as a green fuel, and has made the road easier for LNG project approvals, regulations and access to land. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is calling for all fossil fuels, gas included, to be eventually phased out under a net-zero emissions economy.
This is a noticeable pivot from the days of former President Barack Obama, when Biden served as vice president. The Obama-Biden White House spoke positively about gas’ role in replacing coal-fired power and generally granted land access for gas development with some environmental stipulations. Today, Biden is championing an ambitious climate agenda that would eventually squeeze out gas, assuming that he wins and the plans are pushed through and then upheld by future administrations. On top of targeting net-zero emissions by 2050, Biden is eyeing a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and would block any new access for exploration and production on federal lands. These goals are quite ambitious, however, and would likely run into resistance from Congress, the courts and fossil fuel-dependent states.
The shift is significant but unsurprising. Concern about climate change has steadily risen among the US electorate as extreme weather events have intensified, surveys show. Reinforcing these sentiments is the growing environmental justice movement, intended to protect racial minorities from disproportionate environmental risk, which has gained momentum following the police killings of George Floyd and other African Americans this year. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has driven home the consequences of a world ill-prepared for crises.
Energy Intelligence explores the most important issues for the US gas industry and how Biden and Trump compare.
LNG Exports and Pipelines
Biden’s climate platform calls for “every federal infrastructure investment” and “any federal permitting decision” to consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts. This suggests that Biden would set a higher bar for LNG export authorizations and gas pipeline decisions, with extra layers of review and a greater likelihood that some projects would be rejected. Such reviews would also take place through the lens of Biden’s emissions targets, leaving little room for gas over the long run unless still-costly carbon capture technologies are deployed.
Under Trump, LNG exports have been consistently authorized by the Department of Energy as part of the pursuit of American energy dominance (WGI Jul.29’20). His appointees to the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which decides on physical LNG export infrastructure, have generally done the same even as climate considerations have been integrated into agency decisions in recent years. Gas pipelines have seen much the same landscape and, just a few months ago, Trump enacted reforms that significantly simplified the approval process for pipelines under the National Environmental Policy Act.
On the upstream side, Biden’s platform calls for “aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations.” This would likely involve numerical targets for methane reductions and require the use of best-in-class technologies governing leak detection and repair. Trump, by contrast, has rolled back Obama-era methane regulations significantly and is close to finalizing some of those reversals soon, to the chagrin of environmentalists who note that methane is a potent, albeit short-lived, greenhouse gas. Majors, as well as some independents, also acknowledge the need to slash methane emissions if gas is to have any role in a low- or zero-carbon world (WGI Jul.15’20). But Dan Naatz, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America lobby group, says US producers would prefer regulations that don’t mandate a particular technology for methane reductions. “Technology always moves faster than you think, and to the betterment,” he tells Energy Intelligence, insisting that the industry agrees on the need for dramatic improvements. “As we’re making technology better, it doesn’t make sense to cut it off.”
Cutting off access for climate reasons is indeed what Biden has proposed, but only for new oil and gas developments, and only in areas under federal control.