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May 16, 2013

An Open Letter to Energy Secretary Moniz on Natural Gas Exports

By Deb Nardone, Beyond Natural Gas Campaign Director

Dear Secretary Moniz,

Congratulations on being confirmed as Secretary of Energy. You will play a vitally important role leading our country toward a clean-energy future.

As you begin to consider how natural gas will fit into our energy policy, the Sierra Club's 2.1 million members and supporters urge you and the Department of Energy (DOE) to seriously consider whether fracking for gas is really going to benefit Americans.

There are currently 25 proposals the DOE is considering to build terminals that could export up to 45 percent of total U.S. gas production as liquefied natural gas (LNG). We ask you to think through how exports will affect our public health, environment, climate, and economy, which we have detailed in
our report, Look Before the LNG Leap.

LNG-tanker

In December, NERA Consulting (which is known to have close ties with the fossil fuel industry) published an economic study on LNG exports that included a number of major flaws, such as using old data for its projections. Even more concerning is that NERA's report provides no economic assessment associated with risks to public health and the environment. If exporting natural gas has such potential to change the U.S. economic landscape, why would we think it would not also drastically change our environmental landscape?

The reality is that exporting natural gas will mean more fracking in our communities, which will affect not only our air, water, and land, but the health and safety of the public. Fracking is a dangerous and largely unregulated drilling process, which lacks adequate federal and state protections. Even the Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General warned in its latest report that poor data on air emissions of toxic pollutants from oil and natural gas production make it difficult to predict the potential health effects fracking will have on the public.

Industrial-gas-flare

Continued drilling and fracking is also going to wreak havoc on our climate by increasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Natural gas is made up mostly of methane, an extremely powerful climate-disrupting gas in its own right, which is actually seventy times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat. According to studies by the International Energy Agency, using more natural gas will put the planet on track toward a 3.5°C global temperature increase, driving us closer to climate disaster.

As the new head of DOE, it is your public responsibility to complete a full environmental impact assessment for LNG export before our nation commits to any exports. The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly advised DOE that a comprehensive environmental impact statement is essential to understanding the public health and environmental implications of increased domestic fracking.

Girl-and-fracking-site

In addition to public health and our climate, LNG exports will have significant negative effects on the U.S. economy, especially the middle class. Purdue University conducted an assessment of NERA's study and found, disturbingly, that exports would actually decrease GDP and transfer wealth from the middle class to the already-rich oil and natural gas investors. As stated in the NERA report, "impacts [from LNG exports] will not be positive for all groups in the economy. Households with income solely from wages or government transfers, in particular, might not participate in these benefits." And major job loss, especially in the manufacturing sector, is also expected to be an outcome of LNG exports. A recent report commissioned by Dow Chemical showed that exports could affect hundreds of thousands of planned new jobs in U.S. manufacturing.

In order to fully determine whether sending natural gas overseas is in the public's best interest, DOE must redo the flawed economic study and ensure that it includes costs associated with health and environmental risks. It must also be based on current climate science.

But the real game-changer for exporting LNG will be if the U.S. completes the free trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is currently under negotiation with 10 countries across the Pacific Rim. And Japan, the world's biggest LNG importer, is likely to join the talks in July. The TPP and another pact the U.S. is initiating with the European Union (EU) are likely to require DOE to approve all gas exports, of any amount and without delay, to nations in the agreement. The TPP could be finalized as early as October of this year, and the U.S.-EU trade pact in 2015.

To keep domestic control of our natural gas resources, the DOE must insist that the trade negotiations do not remove DOE's authority to examine the environmental and economic impacts of LNG exports, even to free-trade countries.

Gas exports will transform the U.S. energy landscape and affect communities across the country. They are already altering our climate. We urge the DOE to conduct a thorough scrutiny of the nation's energy policy and take a hard look at the economic and environmental consequences of gas exports. Until these steps have been taken, we must not move forward on extracting any more natural gas. Let's keep it in the ground and fully understand what's at stake before making any decisions that cannot be easily undone. The American public and our future generations deserve no less.

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