The heavy environmental bill of liquefied natural gas

Forgoing Russian gas will be very expensive for Europe. In more ways than one. To get supplies elsewhere, European Union countries have to pay the price and up the ante to keep liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments from going to Asia.

In environmental terms, the bill is also likely to be very high. Liquefied natural gas has a much lower carbon footprint than gas delivered by pipeline. According to a study by the company Carbone 4 , it emits an average of 2.5 times more CO2. This depends on the transport, the distance from the deposits and the type of extraction.

Energy-intensive production

“Switching from Russian gas in Europe to LNG from other countries could cause 10 to 20% additional greenhouse gas emissions”, says Alexandre Joly, Head of Energy at Carbone 4 and author of the study.

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In order to liquefy the gas, it has to be cooled to around -160°C before it can be filled into the ships’ tanks. When it arrives at its destination, the LNG is then converted back into the gaseous state. All these steps require a lot of energy.

“To increase its LNG imports, Europe will invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure, which should last a very long time because it needs to be made profitable,” adds Alexandre Joly. Each regasification terminal costs at least 2 to 3 billion euros.

Poor quality of infrastructure

However, there are two major exceptions to this LNG vs. gas pipeline comparison: Russian gas and Algerian gas. Even if they reach France mainly via large pipes, they have a significantly worse carbon footprint than the methane molecules that arrive by sea from Qatar or Nigeria.

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The poor quality of the installations and the lack of controls due to poor management are the cause of a higher number of methane leaks. “It is better to import LNG from Norway than grid gas from Russia or Algeria”, emphasizes Alexandre Joly.

Poor results for the American slate

But the worst in terms of carbon emissions remains American shale gas, which accounts for 80% of United States production. You have to break the rock to extract the gas bubbles trapped there, so you have to expend more energy. This results in between 1.5 and 4 times the CO2 emissions compared to conventional gas production. Between Norwegian or Dutch gas and American shale gas, all three of which are consumed in France, the CO2 emissions thus vary between 1 and 10.

“Taking into account combustion emissions, the high end of the US LNG carbon footprint is 85% of coal emissions for the same amount of energy consumed.” states the Carbone 4 study.

However, there are said to be more and more imports of American shale gas. An additional 15 billion cubic meters will be added to the 25 billion cubic meters planned for this year, according to the agreement reached with the European Commission in March. And from 2023, the Americans say they want to be able to deliver up to 50 billion cubic meters per year.

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