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Greenpeace warns Ukraine war is locking Europe, US into fossil fuel future

The environmental group claims energy companies and policymakers in Europe and America have used the war to justify the expansion of natural gas use and infrastructure.

(CN) — Greenpeace is warning that fears over energy supplies sparked by the war in Ukraine have been used by energy companies and European and American policymakers to usher in a new environmentally disastrous wave of natural gas projects.

In a report released Thursday, the activist group is highly critical of how the European Union has replaced Russian natural gas with a long-term strategy to drastically ramp up shipments of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, much of it arriving on huge tankers from the United States.

Greenpeace is calling on EU and U.S. lawmakers to phase out the use of gas and stop authorizing and funding new gas infrastructure. Instead, the group says energy policies should focus on dramatically increasing renewable energy and reducing gas consumption.

In truth, the EU and the U.S. are pushing forward with massive renewable energy and energy-saving plans in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though those efforts fall short for many environmentalists.

This week, for example, EU leaders announced plans to focus on making the North Sea an energy powerhouse through the development of offshore wind turbines.

Thursday's Greenpeace report comes as the group opened new legal battles this month against the EU for allowing gas to be labeled a “sustainable investment” and against the United Kingdom's plans to allow new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. The British government pushed to issue new drilling licenses after the Ukraine war broke out.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the EU faced an energy crisis as Russian gas was closed off by Western economic sanctions, the blowing up of the Nord Stream pipelines and retaliatory shutoffs by the Kremlin.

“What followed was one of the most blatant examples of ‘shock doctrine,’ where gas operators quickly shifted their public messaging and lobbying from 'energy transition' to 'energy security,'” the Greenpeace report said.

The fossil fuel lobby “cynically used the opportunity to frighten governments into massive, unneeded investment into and expansion of fossil gas imports and infrastructure,” the report alleged.

“These tactics have resulted in a short-term energy supply crisis being answered by long-term fossil fuel lock-in in the form of new infrastructure, decades long contracts, and environmental impact in the U.S., as well as in the EU,” the report said. “This overreaction jeopardizes the EU’s and U.S.’ energy transition and their agreed climate goals.”

After war broke out, the EU moved quickly to replace Russian gas with imports from Norway, the Middle East, Africa and the U.S.

This shift to LNG is taking place across Europe.

Eight new LNG terminals are under construction and 38 others have been proposed, the report said. Meanwhile, floating LNG terminals where frozen gas is processed were put in place in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Greece and in the Baltic nations. The EU is looking to double its import capacity to 227 billion cubic meters, the report said.

LNG imports to Europe from the U.S. jumped by 140% last year from the previous year and they are expected to continue growing. About 56 billion cubic meters of LNG were shipped from the U.S. to Europe, making up about 40% of the EU's LNG imports.

In the U.S., regulators have approved many new LNG export facilities to meet this new European demand for gas, Greenpeace said. If built, these projects would double America's export capacity to 439 billion cubic meters per year.

Greenpeace said European banks are helping finance the construction of the U.S. export facilities, thereby breaking a pledge made by many European banks to not support hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to extract natural gas. The report criticized EU countries for welcoming U.S. “fracked” gas while banning the practice in their own countries over environmental concerns.

This new boom in LNG exports will lead to even more hydraulic fracturing in the U.S., more pollution and more greenhouse gas emissions, Greenpeace said.

“Gas infrastructure operators, portfolio traders, and gas companies have declared that imported liquefied gas is the answer to the crisis and will remain so for decades to come,” Greenpeace said. “This LNG expansion threatens the health of communities living near these export terminals, extraction sites, and pipelines, while potentially pushing planet warming emissions past levels to meet global climate goals."

The report accuses gas lobbyists in the EU of using the Ukraine war to push for more LNG.

It cited a study by DeSmog, another environmental group, that tracked how a major gas lobbying group, Gas Infrastructure Europe, began issuing social media posts about the need for “energy security” instead of “energy transition” after the war started. The lobby group did not reply to a query seeking comment.

Greenpeace said the gas lobby group also presented plans to the European Commission shortly after the war started about the need to bolster gas infrastructure.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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