Ukrainian Climate Activists Say They Don’t Want the US’s Fracked Gas Exports

Climate activists living under the constant blare of air raid sirens in Ukraine say they don’t want the United States’s fracked gas exports, and don’t want frontline communities along the U.S. Gulf Coast living with the impacts of so-called liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure to become sacrifice zones in their name. They want a massive, wartime mobilization for a transition towards clean energy.

Both countries have environmental justice and climate activists who are critical of the recent impacts on their environment. energy security deal President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen struck Friday in Brussels. The world leaders announced a new task force that would work to ramp up LNG shipments to Europe to facilitate the continent weaning itself off of Russian oil and gas while simultaneously working to reduce demand and expand renewable energy to meet the U.S. and European Union’s shared climate goals.

Despite the promised increase in renewable energy, Ukrainian and U.S. Gulf Coast activists, who are living with the impacts of Russia’s invasion and the U.S. oil and gas export zone’s industrial pollution, called a U.S. fracked gas surge of 50 billion cubic meters to Europe through at least 2030 a disastrous answer to the need for independence from Russian fossil fuels amid the escalating climate emergency.

Oleg Savitsky (climate and energy policy expert at Ukraine Climate Network and board member Ecoaction), tells TruthoutThe LNG lobby has won a major victory with the recent agreement. They have used the crisis to push for more fracking and profit from market shocks and price rises to keep their share values high.

According to a recent Food & Water Watch analysisSince the beginning of the year, the value for shares currently held by CEOs of eight major fossil-fuel companies, including Exxon and Chevron, Enbridge and Kinder Morgan has increased by close to $100 million. Another analysisOil Change International, Greenpeace USA, and Global Witness find that high wartime prices will bring the U.S. oil industry a windfall between $37 billion and $126 billion by 2022.

“You cannot address this crisis with new infrastructure,” Savitsky told TruthoutFrom Lviv, Ukraine. “New infrastructure needs, five, six years to build, and it will be just another stranded asset — as useless as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is now. It will be just billions of wasted money at the time when no single infrastructure project with fossil fuel use can move forward.”

After the Russian forces attempted to infiltrate the city, Savitysky and his family moved to Lviv with their families. Fighting broke out in the Ukrainian capital. Savitsky claims that Lviv’s security situation is rapidly deteriorating as Russia targets the city more often with missile strikes or air attacks. Over the weekend, at least five people were hurt. after two Russian missiles struck the city, one hitting a fuel storage facility and the other targeting the city’s radio repair plant.

Despite the recent strikes, Savitsky says he’s not planning to pick up and move again. “I’m not afraid of air strikes,” he says, telling Truthout cities and town in western Ukraine will fight fiercely against any Russian incursion, and that an advance into Lviv would be “suicide” for Russian troops.

Savitsky asked the U.S. and EU leaders not to pursue a Marshall Plan-style plan to increase renewable and energy efficiency technologies to allow a complete shift away from fossil fuels. He explained that LNG terminals and other infrastructure in southern Europe will inevitably boost autocrats propped up by the fossil fuel industry, whether it’s Russian President Vladimir Putin (who could potentially gain access to the infrastructure if sanctions end) or other petrostate autocrats like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Moreover, he says, for the recent energy deal to have even a shred of credibility, U.S. and EU leaders need to take care of some “unfinished business,” namely the extradition of the Kremlin-connected Ukrainian oil and gas oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who, acting through his firm RosUkrEnergo, a joint venture with Russia’s state oil company Gazprom, fixed Ukrainian gas markets to Moscow’s advantage and funneled money into the campaigns of pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine. The U.S. Department of Justice has sought Firtash’s extradition from Austria on bribery and racketeering charges since 2014.

Firtash became embroiled in Trump’s first impeachment over withholding of military aid to Ukraine after Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani offered to help Firtash with his extradition case if Firtash hired two attorneys close to Trump to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. In addition to calling for U.S. and EU leaders to ensure Firtash is held accountable for his crimes, Savitsky also urged nationalization of RosUkrEnergo’s gas distribution assets in Ukraine.

Before the invasion, Savitsky’s organization, Ecoaction, was working to reshape Ukraine’s energy markets to facilitate a rapid transition to renewables and phase out the country’s poorly performing coal-fired power plants, which he says haven’t undergone reconstruction or adopted any additional pollution controls since the Soviet era.

The war and Ukraine’s successful disconnection of its power grid from Russia and Belarus, and subsequent synchronization with EU’s energy grid on March 16, Savitsky says, has likely dealt a “final blow” to the country’s coal industry. He believes that Ukraine can now decarbonize its energy sources by having additional grid capacity from EU.

Savitsky was in fact part of the coalition for energy transition that first raised the question about connecting to the EU grid. He said that they sent the letters both to the European Commission, and to the Delegation of European Union in Kiev. “We are very grateful to European partners that this process was really put forward very rapidly after our request,” he tells Truthout.

He says that Ukraine still needs more support from the U.S. and EU partners in energy and climate. “We have been talking about a Green New Deal for several years already. It’s time to really walk the talk and to build out the new industrial era with green technologies,” he says.

Julian Popov, a fellow at the European Climate Foundation and former Bulgarian minister of environment, concurs with Savitsky’s analysis of the problems with a U.S. fracked gas surge to Europe. He explained. Truthout that it’s unclear, under the U.S.-EU energy deal, where Europe is going to get the remainder of the fuel supplies it needs to replace the 150 billion cubic meters of gas shipments it received from Russia last year. This amount is roughly 10 times the volume Biden and von der Leyen presented Friday.

The global LNG market operates at near its limits. The U.S. is an example of this. Golden Pass LNG facility in Southeast Texas is the only export terminal under full construction, but won’t be complete until 2024. It is one of more than 27 new or expanding LNG terminal facilities that have been constructed or proposed along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, according to the Environmental Integrity Project’s Oil and Gas Watch tracker.

In the time it takes to build additional export and import infrastructure in the U.S. and southern Europe, there will be cheaper and more achievable advances in renewable technology, Popov says, devaluing, or “stranding,” the LNG assets that were built. It will also be difficult to find the supplies needed to meet European demand, especially since U.S. LNG is regularly sold at higher prices in Asia.

Popov stressed that clean energy technology must be combined with energy efficiency solutions. This is the trend in countries such as Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom over ten years. A joint analysisBellona, Ember and E3G found that clean energy paired together with energy efficiency can replace up to two-thirds Russian gas imports to Europe by 2020. It also shows that Europe is not required to build new LNG import or export infrastructure to achieve energy independence from Russia.

The U.S.-EU energy security agreement promises to increase development and investments in clean energies, including expediting planning and approval for new renewable energy projects and strategic energy cooperation for offshore wind development. It also includes commitments that demand-response device like heat pumps and smart thermostats will be deployed.

But Popov says these nods to the need for climate action are unserious, noting that expanding exports will lock the U.S. and EU into burning fracked gas for decades, imperiling the countries’ goals of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. He called the new Task Force on Energy Security simply “a promise to make a promise” and described President’s Biden’s position on gas exports as no different than former President Donald Trump’s.

However, the Biden administration is still weighing whether to do more in the area of clean energy, even though it seeks to increase gas exports. The Intercept reported last week that the administration has drafted an executive order to invoke the Defense Production Act to bolster the manufacturing of electric vehicles and alleviate shortages of minerals needed to store clean energy in light of oil and gas market shocks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

John Beard, a climate activist and frontline worker, believes that such a move should be made months ago. Beard spent decades working at the Port Arthur Exxon plant and later founded Port Arthur Community Action Network. The organization advocates for environmental justice in the communities that live along the Texas Gulf Coast Gas Export Corridor, home to over 400,000 people. nearly half of the nation’s existing oil and gas refining capacity.

“When Biden came onboard, he said he was going to be the ‘climate president.’ Well, we’ve see very little of that. He’s gotten mired in bureaucratic red tape and doublespeak, and he’s been thwarted by [corporate centrist Sen.]Joe Manchin and other. That doesn’t look good. It doesn’t bode very well. So he’s going to have to put [the draft executive order] in place,” Beard tells Truthout.

Beard has long been fighting the expansion of fracked gas infrastructure in Port Arthur, where the Golden Pass LNG facility is currently under construction and where Black residents, who are more likely to live closer to the city’s petrochemical facilities, live with rates of cancerThe state average is higher than this. Beard is now fighting plans for another Sempra Energy LNG facility that, together with Golden Pass, would transform the city into one of the nation’s largest LNG export hubs.

He says Truthout his community is already a “sacrifice zone” to the U.S. oil and gas industry, and, whether or not the president takes executive action on clean energy in the U.S., his recent EU energy deal will drastically expand that zone to other vulnerable communities of color along the Gulf Coast already living the path of climate-fueled hurricanes. “This is going to be a free for all for the oil and gas industry,” he says.

He also worries the deal will deliver a blow to his community’s fight against the Sempra Energy LNG facility — something he was already clued into while listening to comments last week from U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and others at S&P Global’s CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas. Granholm told oil and gas executives that permitting reforms are “definitely on the agenda” for the Biden administration, generating a round of applause from oil and gas executives.

“That’s not good news for us. It means that [regulators are]Going to accelerate the pace [at which they approve oil and gas infrastructure], which means they’re going to ignore a lot of the real world concerns that these communities have,” Beard tells Truthout.

Not only will communities like his bear the brunt of increased infrastructure buildout, LNG expansion in Texas is likely to further drive up the demand for fracking in the state’s Permian Basin “climate bomb,” where fracked gas extraction was already expected to increase 50 percent over the next decade — the exact opposite of the 40 percent decline climate scientists say is needed to stay under the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5 degrees. In addition to increased fracking in Permian, there are runaway emissions of powerful climate-warming Methane gas as a result of rampant flaring.

The EU energy agreement has the Biden administration pledging to reduce methane leaking and overall greenhouse gas emissions by supplying clean energy for new LNG infrastructure.

Beard insists that these promises are empty words. “There really is no such thing as non-polluting with this equipment and infrastructure,” he says. “I think Biden is trying to sell a pig in a poke. He’s basically taken on the mantra of the industry.”