Environmentalists challenge natural gas export plans

Environmentalists are challenging Freeport LNG’s bid to export natural gas from a facility in Texas — the latest attempt to undercut a push by more than a half dozen companies to send the fossil fuel overseas.

The move by the Sierra Club came in the form of a formal protest lodged with the Energy Department, which is considering a request by Freeport LNG and other firms for licenses to export liquefied natural gas.

Texas-based companies, such as Cheniere Energy and Freeport LNG, are eager to take advantage of the glut of natural gas produced in the U.S., using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques that allow the fossil fuel to be freed from dense shale rock formations.

But the Sierra Club wants the federal government to put the brakes on those plans, amid concerns about air pollution and potential water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. The group has challenged other LNG export plans and asked top Obama administration officials to require a broader review of the environmental consequences of the likely surge in natural gas drilling that would result from selling the fuel overseas.

“Exporting LNG requires increased natural gas production and more unsafe fracking, making a dirty fuel more dangerous and putting more American families in at risk,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in a statement.

In its filing Friday, the Sierra Club asks the government to conduct a full environmental impact statement and broadly study the consequences of allowing Freeport LNG to develop an export facility 70 miles south of Houston. The group’s protest hinges on air and water pollution in Texas from a boost in natural gas exploration in the Barnett Shale and other regions.

“Fracking for natural gas significantly impacts water and air quality in Texas,” said Dewayne Quertermous, a Sierra Club Lonestar Chapter member, in a statement. “An export facility would increase these impacts by increasing production in the shale plays.”

Freeport LNG and ConocoPhillips are aiming to build the export facility, with a potential capacity of 4.4 million tons per year.

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