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The Messy Politics of Rising U.S. Natural Gas Exportation

Olivia LoDico

As a country who prides itself in its efforts in mitigating fossil fuel emissions, the U.S. continues to catalyze nonrenewable energy consumption through its unprecedented levels of gas exportation. In 2023, the U.S. exported more liquified natural gas (LNG) than any other country, averaging around 11.9 billion cubic feet per day. Passing the previous title holders of Qatar and Australia, the U.S. exportation of LNG has increased by 12% compared to its average in 2022.

This spike in exportation, particularly in the first half of the year, largely stemmed from Freeport LNG’s return to service, operating full steam ahead by April 2023. In addition, Europe’s demand for natural gas has increased while attempting to stray from financially supporting Russia in light of its 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Naturally, the U.S. stepped in and filled this role in becoming Europe’s primary LNG supplier.

Due to this exponential increase in exports, the Biden administration has been receiving heightened criticism from environmentalists and Democrats. In response to these concerns, the administration issued a temporary pause in pending approvals of LNG exports. Unfortunately, this pause does not apply to existing exports or natural gas projects that are already underway. Therefore, this has no impact on the currently authorized 48 Bcf/d for export, but it claims to ensure that future approvals align with the public interest. The lack of meaningful action on this front can be attributed to the political tightrope the Biden administration walks on in seeking bipartisan and international content. In the announcement, the administration reassured its commitment in providing unwavering support in supplying LNG to our allies, regardless of the pause in approvals. Just two months into the pause, there is already talk of lifting it within the year due to pushback from the oil and gas industry as well as Republicans.

However, the backlash the administration faces from not being steadfast enough with this pause should be taken with a grain of salt. Recent Supreme Court rulings, particularly West Virginia v. EPA, have made it nearly impossible to accomplish any meaningful climate change legislation before the November election. The use of the “major questions” doctrine in this ruling allows the court to halt any regulations or agency actions that address questions of major political or economic importance without authorization from Congress. The precedent this case set is a major setback in environmental policymaking and has the ability to reduce Biden’s control over LNG exports. 

On top of these setbacks, there is contention over whether the act of exporting LNG directly contributes to climate change. Any amounts of natural gas that the U.S. removes from the market could very well just be replaced by other suppliers. Therefore, restricting exportation of LNG from the U.S. may primarily raise energy prices and further marginalize poorer consumers. The foremost problem in this equation is the demand that exists for these fossil fuels. The goal should be to incentivize alternative forms of renewable energy for consumption or exportation in order to truly affect climate change. It is predicted that LNG exports are to double by the end of the decade. In order to combat this outcome, future policies need to be aimed towards reducing our demand for LNG instead of starting with our supply, which, of course, is much easier said than done.


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