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Fracking-Related Industrial Growth to Boost Greenhouse Gas Pollution by as Much as 19 Coal Plants

New Report: 44 Petrochemical Industry Projects Proposed or Permitted in 2015 Threaten to Raise Pollution from the Industry by 16 Percent. Louisiana’s Total Emissions May Jump by a Third.

Washington, D.C., February 29, 2016 – Although natural gas is often touted as a clean “green” fuel, low gas prices from hydraulic fracturing sparked proposals in 2015 for 44 petrochemical industry construction and expansion projects that are expected to increase greenhouse gas pollution by 86 million tons a year — as much as from 19 coal-fired power plants, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project.

“This growing greenhouse gas pollution from the petrochemical industry suggests that the fracking and natural gas boom is not as good for the climate as people think,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and former director of civil enforcement at EPA.   “Policy makers will have to take this growth into account and may have to require larger emissions cuts from other sources of pollution to make up for this increase.”

Almost half of these planned or permitted Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) terminals, gas processing plants, fertilizer factories, refineries, and chemical plant construction or expansions projects are in Louisiana, according to state and federal records. Others are in West Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and other states.

For a copy of the report, click here.

The crash in gas and oil prices of recent years, driven by a glut of fuel produced by fracking, is causing bankruptcies and layoffs among drilling companies. But other industries that benefit from cheap gas and oil – such as chemical manufacturers and fertilizer factories – are exploiting the market to build and expand.

Across the U.S. over the last five years, 140 petrochemical projects have been proposed or approved that are expected to produce 179 million tons of greenhouse gases per year – the amount that would rise from 39 coal-fired power plants, according to EIP’s new report, “Greenhouse Gases from a Growing Petrochemical Industry.”

The lion’s share of this recent growth – especially last year – was in Louisiana. In the Bayou state, 20 petrochemical projects were proposed or authorized in 2015 that are expected to produce the equivalent of 68 million tons per year of carbon dioxide, as much as 15 new coal fired power plants. To put this in perspective, Louisiana today only has only six coal plants.

The entire state of Louisiana today produces about 230 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, according to an estimate from the World Resource Institute. That means the new petrochemical projects proposed and permitted in just one year — 2015 – would boost the state’s total emissions by about 30 percent. “That’s a very large increase from one state in one year,” said Schaeffer.

A 500 megawatt coal plant running at full capacity around the clock will release about 4.6 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. Some of the recent petrochemical plant projects will release far more than that. For example, the Cameron Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plant in Louisiana that received a permit on January 14, 2016, is authorized to release twice that much — up to 9 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.

The recent growth is concentrated in four areas:

  1. LNG and Natural Gas Processing: Last year, 23 LNG and natural gas processing and compressing facilities were proposed or permitted across the U.S. that will – when built in a few years – release 47 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, a 34 percent surge in emissions from this sector. Not all of these projects will end up being built, with some experts predicting that more LNG terminals have been proposed than the market will bear.

2.    Fertilizer Factories: Seven new fertilizer manufacturing plants or expansion projects were proposed or permitted last year in the U.S., including five in Louisiana and one each in Arkansas and North Dakota. When built, these factories will eventually release 15.8 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, or 39 percent more than the sector released in 2014.

3.     Chemical Plants: Seven new chemical factory projects were proposed last year – including three methanol plants (in Louisiana and Texas), two ethylene plants (in Louisiana) and an expansion of a pesticide factory in Louisiana. These projects are authorized to release up to 17.6 tons per year of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, a 12 percent increase over this year.

4.     Refineries: In 2015, seven petroleum refinery projects were proposed or permitted in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kentucky. When built, these facilities are expected to produce about 5.4 million tons per year of greenhouse gases, which will be a three percent increase.

The data in the EIP report are from state and federal records, and include projects that have been issued final or draft permits by state and federal agencies, or have applied for permits. When built, the 44 petrochemical industry projects permitted or proposed in 2015 are expected to create a 16 percent increase in the climate-warming emissions, compared to the industry’s 2014 total.

The size of the proposed increase suggests that both state and federal governments have a significant amount of work ahead of them on the climate issue. This is especially true in the context of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 decision to put on hold the Obama Administration’s rules for controlling greenhouse gases from the power plants.

Schaeffer said: “One answer to the problem of this increase in pollution from the petrochemical industry might be to require more efficient operations from industry.  More energy conservation could have the dual benefit of reducing greenhouse gas pollution, and also – over the long run – saving money, which the businesses could reinvest in their workers and the environment.”

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 14-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington D.C., that is dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.

A spreadsheet with a listing of all of the projects by state is available by clicking here.

The report is available by clicking here.

Media contact: Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574 or tpelton@environmentalintegrity.org