Opinion: Federal money should be spent on climate-friendly projects, not LNG

It’s back! I am referring to the colossally bad idea, the Alaska Liquified Natural Gas project.

By Mike Tobin

It’s back! I am referring to the colossally bad idea known as the Alaska Liquefied Natural Gas project pushed by the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation. They just released a report, funded by the State of Alaska, that hypes a plan to build a gas treatment plant on the North Slope, an 807-mile pipeline to Cook Inlet, and a gas liquefaction-for-export facility in Nikiski for an estimated $38.7 billion.

The idea has been around for decades. Why hasn’t it been built? Most recently, according to Larry Persily, “North Slope producers in 2016 decided not to spend more money on the economically challenged $38 billion project and dropped out of the application process. … Companies will always invest in projects with the least amount of risk and the best potential for profit, and Alaska’s LNG project just doesn’t stack up.”

So, of course, the industry wants federal government funding.

Among the weakest points made by the report is that the Alaska LNG project, over a 30-year life cycle, would release less greenhouse gas than Chinese coal! Set the bar low enough and even one-legged millipedes can jump over it.

Actually, 10 or 15 years ago this might have been a legitimate claim, because on a per/BTU basis natural gas emits about 30% less carbon dioxide than coal. But natural gas is mostly methane, and since 10 years ago we have learned that methane leaks in the production of natural gas are much larger than previously realized. Two things about methane: It is 25 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and unlike CO2, it can’t be absorbed by forests. Natural gas and its most transportable form, LNG, are certainly as problematic as coal. LNG is simply not a climate-friendly product.

Since this project was first proposed decades ago, stuff has happened. The climate has gone unstable. Green technology has developed rapidly. Wind, solar and battery technologies in many places are now cheaper than fossil fuels, a development that is killing the coal industry.

Imagine the changes that will occur in the next 30 years. If current trends continue (and they will since the climate crisis is now baked in) we will have further collapse of crab and salmon fisheries, further permafrost melt, further village collapse, further heat waves, fires, droughts, floods and sea level rise.

As a standard practice when a project of theirs is challenged, the industry will cry “Jobs! Jobs!” If they were sincere about that, the companies could put crews to work tomorrow stopping methane leaks from existing and abandoned wells and pipelines. They could fund the projects needed by Alaska Native villages to stabilize or move them in light of river and coastal erosion. This erosion is the direct result of permafrost melt and loss of sea ice cover, both due to the planetary toxicity of the fossil fuel industry’s products. But they won’t. They will leave that up to you and me.

In considering a big project like Alaska LNG, there is something called “opportunity cost.” It means that if you put your eggs and money in one basket you don’t put them in another. You lose the opportunity.

The Renewable Energy Alaska Project estimates that over $1 billion of the approximately $6 billion spent on energy in Alaska yearly is wasted due to inefficiencies. This includes the heating, electricity and transportation sectors.

The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation has reported that the energy-efficiency upgrades they have helped finance have resulted in about 30% savings in heating residential buildings. Thousands of residences remain to be upgraded. (Read “Jobs! Jobs!”)

The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation’s self-serving report is an example of “greenwashing,” in this case dressing up a dirty fossil fuel project as green by comparing it to possibly dirtier projects.

Instead let’s compare it to possible projects in wind, solar, tidal and small hydro power, and to possible pumped hydro projects for energy storage.

Instead of corporate welfare for a long-term fossil fuel project, federal Build Back Better monies should be put to work employing Alaskans to build the economy of the future.

Mike Tobin is a 350Juneau Steering Committee member. Tobin resides in Juneau. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Alaska Voices: Restore our strong campaign donation limits

Without campaign spending limits, the ideal of one person, one vote is no longer really true.

The Final Redistricting Map approved for the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna area is seen on Nov. 9, 2021. (Map via akredistrict.org)
Alaska Voices: The Alaska Redistricting Board’s last-minute gerrymandering failed Alaska

Our Constitution outlines rules for a redistricting process designed to uphold public trust.

This photo shows the trans-Alaska pipeline and pump station north of Fairbanks. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Alaska Voices: The permanent fund has been taking care of Alaskans for 45 years

It’s the largest sovereign wealth fund in the nation, the pride of Alaska and this month we celebrate its 45th anniversary.

Dr. Tom Hennessy, MD, MPH (Courtesy)
Voices of the Peninsula: Don’t take medical advice from politicians, athletes or social media

Evidence leads to consensus among medical doctors: Vaccines are the best way to prevent infection.