Alaska LNG would cut C02 emissions by 50% over coal, report says

  • An open-pit coal mine near Xilinhot, China, is seen in 2013. Exporting Alaska’s natural gas to power-generating customers in Asia would roughly halve carbon dioxide emissions versus burning coal, according to a study commissioned by the agency leading the Alaska LNG Project. (Photo/Hal Bernton/Seattle Times/TNS)

Exporting Alaska’s natural gas to power-generating customers in Asia would roughly halve carbon dioxide emissions versus burning coal, according to a study commissioned by the agency leading the Alaska LNG Project.

The 16-page report made public at the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s Oct. 7 board of directors meeting also concludes exports from the $38 billion Alaska LNG Project would ultimately result in fewer carbon dioxide emissions than Gulf Coast-based LNG projects for several reasons.

AGDC leaders previously said they expected a pending review of the mega-LNG project’s lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by the Department of Energy to show using Alaska’s gas overseas to displace coal-fired power generation would significantly reduce overall carbon emissions over what is largely the status quo.

AGDC President Frank Richards said in an interview that the study largely confirms what he and other proponents of Alaska LNG have long said: North Slope natural gas is one of the cleanest sources of hydrocarbon fuel on the planet.

Project officials wanted to get a head start on the DOE evaluation that is being done by the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which will come in the form of a supplemental environmental impact statement, or SEIS. Officials in the DOE office expect to publish a draft SEIS in early May, with a final order coming in mid-December 2022, according to a schedule published by the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.

“We’re very pleased at the outcome that shows, using publicly available sources and the same (DOE) methodologies that have been used to evaluate other LNG projects around the world, we are a lower-greenhouse-gas project,” Richards said.

The Energy Department announced in early July it would conduct the SEIS following a petition by the Sierra Club urging DOE officials to withdraw their approval of the project, which is based on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s 2020 final Alaska LNG environmental impact statement.

Representatives from the Sierra Club, the Fairbanks-based Northern Alaska Environmental Center and other environmental groups have been critical of the Alaska LNG Project for the carbon dioxide it would emit; instead insisting coal and other carbon-based fuels should be replaced with renewable energy sources. LNG industry players tout their product, relative to coal and oil, as a cleaner-burning “bridge fuel” that can support a longer energy transition as new renewable technologies and infrastructure are developed.

Richards said FERC conducted a “project specific” carbon emissions analysis while the study commissioned by AGDC and the DOE review encompasses all of the potential project-related carbon sources.

“What the DOE is saying is they want to go beyond Prudhoe Bay,” he said.

AGDC’s study was compiled over about six weeks by three independent consulting firms that had all previously done similar work for the National Energy Technology Laboratory, according to Richards. It cost AGDC approximately $30,000.

According to AGDC’s report, operating the 20 million tonnes per year Alaska LNG Project would emit approximately 13.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases per year, with more than half of the total coming from processing the gas through the North Slope gas treatment plant and operating the massive three-train, gas-fired liquefaction facility.

The gas treatment plant is largely needed to strip carbon dioxide, which is about 10 percent of North Slope natural gas, off of the methane that is pure natural gas. The carbon dioxide removed from the gas would be reinjected into the Prudhoe Bay reservoir.

When greenhouse gas emissions from project operations are added to the emissions from shipping, regasification of the LNG and ultimately burning the fuel the project’s total supply-chain emissions would be roughly 77 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent gases per year, according to AGDC’s report. That’s almost exactly half of the greenhouse gases emitted from burning coal in China to produce the same amount of power in 2019.

Burning coal accounted for nearly 60 percent of China’s primary energy consumption in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The report also concludes that producing and shipping LNG from Gulf Coast projects — the primary competitors to Alaska LNG — is significantly more greenhouse gas-intensive than North Slope-sourced LNG, Richards noted. That’s due to longer shipping routes through the Panama Canal, and the fact that the existing wells in the Prudhoe Bay and Point Thomson fields from which gas would be drawn versus the energy needed to drill the many shale gas wells to supply most Lower 48 LNG projects.

He added that Lower 48 gas frequently changes hands and goes through multiple systems that increase the possibility of “fugitive emissions” from potential gas leakage.

Richards further highlighted that utilizing Prudhoe Bay gas in the LNG project would eliminate the need to run the gas-fired compressors currently used to reinject the gas back into the field.

The report gives AGDC leaders an understanding of what the results of the SEIS will likely be, but also provides valuable information for marketing the project to potential customers and investors interested in reducing global emissions, he said.

“They’re looking for products with low carbon footprints,” Richards said. “We want to position ourselves as a low-carbon LNG product.”

AGDC leaders have said they have reached preliminary agreements with private parties to lead the pipeline and gas treatment facilities and hope to reach a similar spot with a lead LNG party soon to move toward the detailed front-end engineering and design stage sometime next summer.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
10/12/2021 - 5:58pm