A Breath of Fresh Air

By Matt Patterson, January 17, 2022

Photo Credit: MDart10 / Shutterstock.com

A sober-minded energy policy proposal appears to be in the works in Europe. On January 4th, The New York Times reported that “The European Union has drawn up plans to classify some nuclear power and natural gas plants as green investments that can help Europe cut planet-warming emissions[.]” A statement from the European Commission, which will consult with the EU on the proposal, acknowledged that “there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future.”[i] This proposal would allow investment in nuclear and natural gas plants in an attempt to replace more polluting energy sources, such as coal. Natural gas plants produce about half of the greenhouse emissions that coal plants produce, and nuclear power plants produce no greenhouse emissions at all. This transition could be an energy turning point in Europe, where “zero-emissions” goals and talking points are plentiful but the current radical proposals from climate evangelists make any actual progress nearly impossible. Many opponents of the proposal do not want an increase in natural gas or nuclear power because it is not green enough, and they ignore the realities of the unreliability of renewable energy sources that have led some countries in Europe to increase coal production.[ii]

Nevertheless, faced with a cold winter, high energy prices, and depleted fuel supplies, it seems that at least some members of the European Union are not letting perfect be the enemy of good and are looking to increase investment and production of cleaner, reliable energy sources. The European Union looks to follow the lead of the United States in transitioning from coal to cheap natural gas and reducing emissions, courtesy of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).[iii] Of course, natural gas production is not 100% emissions-free, but it is much cleaner than coal and currently more reliable than renewable sources such as wind and solar. Europe has a significant supply of natural gas on the continent and could ramp up production to decrease emissions without drastically depleting its energy supply.[iv]

Additionally, this transition could have a sizeable economic benefit to the United States. As National Review’s Kevin Williams explains, if Europe does not want to increase its own natural gas production, the continent could increase its import of liquified natural gas (LNG) from the United States, a win-win for the environment and the economy. The United States, however, would need to increase its LNG production to keep up with demand.

We Americans are, uncharacteristically, missing an opportunity to profit from this: Our capacity for processing natural gas into LNG (liquified natural gas) for export to Europe and points east is limited, and new facilities have been kept in bureaucratic limbo for months and years — there wasn’t a single new North American LNG project approved in 2021. Only one broke ground in 2020[v]

About half of the US LNG volumes shipped in December 2021 went to Europe, which was an increase from 37% earlier in the year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.[vi] If Europe is willing to import additional LNG, the United States would be wise to increase investment in natural gas production to provide more exports, reduce the cost of natural gas through additional production, and improve the environment by reducing coal consumption. Williamson posits that forgoing the opportunity to increase natural gas exports is “foolish”, especially for “reasons that amount to superstition.”[vii]

The reality is that a rapid transition to renewable energy sources and complete eradication of fossil fuels is not only untenable, but actually has a regressive effect on the climate when (inevitably) the coal plants are fired up again.[viii] The European Union is aiming to take a step in the right direction by acknowledging that natural gas is a clean, efficient alternative to coal and that steps can be taken toward reducing emissions without Green New Deal-style proposals that damage the economy and fail to keep the lights on. The United States should support this step and increase natural gas production on this side of the Atlantic.

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/02/business/europe-green-investments-nuclear-natural-gas.html [ii] https://www.yahoo.com/now/europe-turns-russia-more-coal-190000162.html [iii] https://www.nationalreview.com/the-tuesday/the-nuclear-option/ [iv] Ibid. [v] Ibid. [vi] https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/gas-gap-europe-drives-us-lng-exports-record-high-2022-01-06/ [vii] https://www.nationalreview.com/the-tuesday/the-nuclear-option/ [viii] https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/european-gas-price-surge-prompts-switch-coal-2021-10-12/