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May 16, 2005

Natural Gas: Liquid Launch

LngThis Oregonian article describes growing community opposition to building a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the state.  Clearly, lots of people are concerned about the security risks of having an LNG terminal near them.

But, if so many people don't want LNG terminals, why is there so much pressure to build them?  The answer is simple:  residents of Oregon and Washington use a lot of natural gas, both to heat our homes and, increasingly, for electricity; but the suppliers we've come to rely on are beginning to run out.  Here's the story-within-the-story:

"Washington gets nearly 90 percent of its gas from Canada and Oregon gets 60 percent, and those supplies are in decline...LNG (liquefied natural gas) becomes a logical supplement to those declining sources."

The proposed terminals would receive liquefied natural gas via tanker ships from countries such as Australia, Russia and Indonesia. The liquefied gas would be stored at the terminals, then converted back to vapor form and distributed to suppliers along the Williams Northwest pipeline system that follows Interstate 5.

The depletion of natural gas supplies is a really big deal. Natural gas consumption has been on the rise in the Northwest, in part to fuel new electricity generators.  Gas turbines are cheap to build, compared with other kinds of generating plants; and despite all the attention the Northwest's new wind farms have garnered, between 2001 and 2003 the region added 17 times asmuch generating capacity as from natural gas as from wind.  But we produce no natural gas of our own in the Northwest states--which means that our growing reliance on gas is siphoning money out of the region's economy.  And now, with Canadian supplies on the decline, gas prices are likely to rise, LNG terminal or no. 

Paradoxically, just as natural gas costs are rising, the environmental benefits are, if anything, falling.  Gas used to be considered somewhat benign, at least compared with coal or petroleum, since it can produce more useable energy with less global warming emissions.  But LNG consumes a lot of energy:  you have extract the gas in some distant spot, pressurize and refrigerate it, and move the resulting liquid halfway around the world -- meaning that with LNG, the energy-efficiency benefits of natural gas will be falling, even as the cost is rising.

Still, given the near-certainty of continued declines in Canada's gas production, it's a virtual certainty that the pressure for more LNG terminals will continue to build.  Would that there were the same kinds of pressure for conservation and renewable -- a far more cost-effective & environmentally benign solution than the massively expensive infrastructure for LNG.

Posted by ClarkWD | Permalink


I think very few people at this point have any idea how large these terminals are, and how explosive those ships are. That isn't a canoe floating in to dock, it is a football stadium sized bomb, and you would be seeing them several times a week.

Do we get off the treadmill, or boil more water? I say conservation and truely green alternatives are our best bet.

After all, if natural gas is running out in America, gotta run out in the world some time too. Might as well build a useful infrastructure now, while we are flush with cheap energy.

Posted by: Jon S. | May 16, 2005 5:51:49 PM

LNG probably isn't any more dangerous (from a combustion standpoint!) than oil transported via ship. Once it's in a gaseous form however, that's a different story. I'm with you though Jon... the only way I could get behind a LNG terminal is if it were paid for with completely private financing, no subsidies. By skewing the market towards petroleum with subsidies we've put ourselves in a precarious situation and we shouldn't go that route with NG. Let the users bear the true costs of fossil fuels and it will become self evident that conservation and renewables are our best bet.

Posted by: Ron | May 16, 2005 5:58:52 PM