decisions TBD

Consideration for new LNG terminals delayed with climate risk in mind

Texas has a few LNG projects in the works, but it's unclear how the delay will affect them. Photo via Getty Images

The Biden administration is delaying consideration of new natural gas export terminals in the United States, even as gas shipments to Europe and Asia have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The election year decision by President Joe Biden aligns with environmentalists who fear the huge increase in exports, in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is locking in potentially catastrophic planet-warming emissions when the Democratic president has pledged to cut climate pollution in half by 2030.

“While MAGA Republicans willfully deny the urgency of the climate crisis, condemning the American people to a dangerous future, my administration will not be complacent,'' Biden said in a statement Friday. “We will not cede to special interests. We will heed the calls of young people and frontline communities who are using their voices to demand action from those with the power to act.''

Texas has a few LNG projects in the works, but it's unclear how the delay will affect them.

The current economic and environmental analyses the Energy Department uses to evaluate LNG projects don't adequately account for potential cost hikes for American consumers and manufacturers or the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, the White House said.

Industry groups condemned the pause as a “win for Russia," while environmentalists cheered an action they have long been seeking as a way to counter Biden’s approval of the huge Willow oil project in Alaska last year.

“This decision is brave, because Donald Trump (the man who pulled us out of the Paris climate accords on the grounds that climate change is a hoax) will attack it mercilessly,'' environmental activist Bill McKibben wrote in an online post.

“But it’s also very, very savvy: Biden wants young people, who care about climate above all, in his corner. They were angry about his dumb approval of the Willow oil project,'' McKibben added.

A proposed LNG export terminal in Louisiana would produce about 20 times the greenhouse gas emissions of Willow, McKibben noted.

“And of course everyone understands that if Biden is not reelected this win means nothing. It will disappear on Day One when (Trump) begins his relentless campaign to ‘drill drill drill,'" he said.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the pause will not affect already authorized export projects and noted that U.S. gas exports reached record highs last year. The pause will not immediately affect U.S. supplies to Europe or Asia, Granholm said, since seven LNG terminals are currently in operation, with several more expected to come online in the next few years.

"We remain committed to ensuring our partners' medium-term energy needs are met,'' she told reporters at a White House briefing late Thursday. If necessary, the Energy Department can allow exceptions for national security needs, Granholm said.

She and other officials declined to say how long the permitting pause will last, but said a study of how proposed LNG projects will affect the environment, the economy and national security will take "some months.'' A public comment period after that will likely delay any decisions on pending LNG projects until after the 2024 presidential election.

U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas began less than a decade ago, but have grown rapidly in recent years to the point that the U.S. has become the world’s largest gas exporter. Exports rose sharply after Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and Biden and Granholm have celebrated the delivery of U.S. gas to Europe and Asia as a key geopolitical weapon against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest lobbying group for the oil and gas industry, turned those comments against the Democratic administration as it condemned Biden's action.

“This is a win for Russia and a loss for American allies, U.S. jobs and global climate progress," said Mike Sommers, API's president and CEO.

"There is no review needed to understand the clear benefits of U.S. LNG (exports) for stabilizing global energy markets, supporting thousands of American jobs and reducing emissions around the world by transitioning countries toward cleaner fuels'' and away from coal, Sommers said in a statement.

Biden's action "is nothing more than a broken promise to U.S. allies, and it’s time for the administration to stop playing politics with global energy security,” he said.

Granholm, who has made it a point to work with oil and gas executives even as Biden has exchanged sometimes pointed barbs with them, said “a lot has happened” since LNG exports began about eight years ago.

“We need to have an even greater understanding of the (global energy) market need, the long-term supply and demand of energy resources and the environmental factors,'' she said. “So by updating the analysis process now, we will be better informed to avoid export authorizations that diminish our domestic energy availability, that weaken our security or that undermine our economy. ‘’

Granholm emphasized the delay “is not a retroactive review of already authorized exports,'' nor is it intended to punish the oil and gas industry.

“We are committed to strengthening energy security here in the U.S. and with our allies, and we’re committed to protecting Americans against climate change as we lead the world into a clean energy future,'' she said.

Jeremy Symons, an environmental consultant and former climate policy adviser at the Environmental Protection Agency, called Biden's decision a “game-changer” in the fight against climate change.

“The president is drawing a line in the sand to put the nation's interests first and listen to climate science,'' Symons said in an interview. ”The days of massive fossil fuel projects like the CP2 project escaping scrutiny from the federal government are over. We now have a president who cares about climate change.''

Symons and other activists have targeted the $10 billion Calcasieu Pass 2 project, or CP2, along Louisiana's Gulf Coast, noting it would be the nation's largest export terminal if built. The project in Cameron Parish would export up to 20 million tons (18.1 million metric tons) of chilled natural gas per year, creating more greenhouse gas emissions than even the Willow project, which environmentalists have decried as a "carbon bomb.''

Symons called the gas project "bad for our nation, bad for our health and bad for our economy.''

Shaylyn Hynes, spokeswoman for the project’s owner, Virginia-based Venture Global, said the Biden administration "continues to create uncertainty about whether our allies can rely on U.S. LNG for their energy security.''

A prolonged pause on LNG exports "would shock the global energy market ... and send a devastating signal to our allies that they can no longer rely on the United States,'' said Hynes, who served as an Energy Department spokeswoman in the Trump administration.

"The true irony is this policy would hurt the climate and lead to increased (greenhouse gas) emissions, as it would force the world to pivot to coal'' instead of natural gas, Hynes said.

Climate activists dispute that, calling LNG a leading contributor to climate change due to methane leaks and an energy-intensive process to liquefy gas.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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