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Environ Sci Technol. 2015 Mar 3;49(5):3237-45. doi: 10.1021/es505617p. Epub 2015 Feb 19.

Life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. liquefied natural gas exports: implications for end uses.

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Department of Engineering and Public Policy and ‡Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University , 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, United States.


This study analyzes how incremental U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports affect global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We find that exported U.S. LNG has mean precombustion emissions of 37 g CO2-equiv/MJ when regasified in Europe and Asia. Shipping emissions of LNG exported from U.S. ports to Asian and European markets account for only 3.5-5.5% of precombustion life cycle emissions, hence shipping distance is not a major driver of GHGs. A scenario-based analysis addressing how potential end uses (electricity and industrial heating) and displacement of existing fuels (coal and Russian natural gas) affect GHG emissions shows the mean emissions for electricity generation using U.S. exported LNG were 655 g CO2-equiv/kWh (with a 90% confidence interval of 562-770), an 11% increase over U.S. natural gas electricity generation. Mean emissions from industrial heating were 104 g CO2-equiv/MJ (90% CI: 87-123). By displacing coal, LNG saves 550 g CO2-equiv per kWh of electricity and 20 g per MJ of heat. LNG saves GHGs under upstream fugitive emissions rates up to 9% and 5% for electricity and heating, respectively. GHG reductions were found if Russian pipeline natural gas was displaced for electricity and heating use regardless of GWP, as long as U.S. fugitive emission rates remain below the estimated 5-7% rate of Russian gas. However, from a country specific carbon accounting perspective, there is an imbalance in accrued social costs and benefits. Assuming a mean social cost of carbon of $49/metric ton, mean global savings from U.S. LNG displacement of coal for electricity generation are $1.50 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) of gaseous natural gas exported as LNG ($.028/kWh). Conversely, the U.S. carbon cost of exporting the LNG is $1.80/Mcf ($.013/kWh), or $0.50-$5.50/Mcf across the range of potential discount rates. This spatial shift in embodied carbon emissions is important to consider in national interest estimates for LNG exports.

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