Liquified Natural Gas (LNG):
Clean or Climate Injustice?

Across the country, divestment campaigns are fighting for universities, pension funds, and more to take their investments out of fossil fuels. As recently as earlier this month, activists at New York University won a decade-long fight to divest their university’s endowment from fossil fuel investments. But as these campaigns persist, it’s important to keep a close eye on the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to put profit over people. From coal mines to oil extraction and shale drilling, the fossil fuel industry has lived many lives. Staying informed about their latest ploys can help us make more effective appeals to university leadership, pension fund managers, and those who control various investment mechanisms.  So, what’s next for our fossil fuels foes?

The newest trend in the energy industry is a fuel called LNG— which stands for Liquified Natural Gas. To start off, LNG isn’t the same “gas” you might be putting in your car. It’s a form of natural gas that has been extracted and then cooled down to create a liquid form— all to make it easier to transport. When it crosses oceans to reach its eventual destination in Europe or Asia, LNG has to be warmed back up to its gaseous form to be used. Just cooling, transporting, and rewarming this fuel requires enormous energy on its own. But, this might not be the same narrative you’re hearing from policy makers and the energy industry. In recent years, these companies have staged elaborate campaigns to market LNG as a “transition fuel,” meaning a fuel that pollutes less than other fossil fuels, able to be used to bridge a “gap” between coal or oil and renewables like solar or wind. The main talking point they use? LNG supposedly does not emit as much carbon dioxide as other fossil fuels.

The Catch? LNG is largely composed of methane, which is over 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide, worsening already rapid global warming. The emissions from having to compress the gas, transport it as a liquid, and then un-compress it, makes it even more polluting than coal. So, where is all this new LNG production and distribution happening? Much of it is actually occurring in the US in our own backyards. In particular, many of the new facilities where LNG is produced and prepped for export are in the Gulf South and the Permian Basin— concentrated in Black and Brown communities in states like Louisiana and Texas. If this pattern sounds familiar, it’s because these are the same communities that have already been polluted for decades in the infamous “Cancer Alley.” Having been deemed “sacrifice zones,” they are now being targeted with even more harmful fossil fuel infrastructure. So, LNG isn’t just polluting the planet— it’s also exacerbating environmental justice issues

LNG is picking up because fossil fuel companies are desperate to hold onto their profits, especially as movements to divest from their industry are growing in power and scale. As many institutions announce their “divestment,” it’s critical to keep a close eye on the divestment process to ensure that they are transparent and complete. Many institutions may be investing in “transition fuels” like LNG, continuing to invest in fossil fuels while outwardly presenting as “clean energy supporters.” That’s why it’s more important than ever for college divestment organizers to track the fossil fuel industry’s emerging narratives. By staying informed, we can better hold our institutions accountable— even after they announce divestment.

RCC Fellow – Aaditi Lele – Vanderbilt University

Aaditi is a junior at Vanderbilt University and returning RCC Fellow, majoring in Climate Studies and Political Science on the International Politics track, with a minor in South Asian Language and Culture. After graduation, she hopes to attend law school and focus on the intersection of climate justice and international migration law, sparked by her passion for the environment and her immigrant roots.