The Biden administration recently took on the role of gas fixer for central Europe, holding video calls with countries to get them to allow tankers of gas to be diverted to Germany, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. With Russia massing its military presence along the border with Ukraine, the Kremlin could seek to weaken the international blowback by constricting gas supply delivered through pipelines in Ukraine. The result would be to ratchet up already near record-high costs for German businesses and households. Germany is projected to have enough gas in reserve for the cold months ahead and has been investing in renewable energy, and energy industry experts say it’s unlikely that Russia would entirely cut off the flow of gas because of the severe economic risks to its export markets. But Russian gas accounts for about a third of German supply and over 15% of its electricity generation, making up Europe’s largest gas source, so the pinch could be real.
The global scramble for gas cargo comes amid a rise in lobbying and intense congressional debate over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, completed in September and now awaiting permits and approval, which bypasses Ukraine by running under the Baltic Sea and could double the fossil gas pumped to Germany from Russia. An effort to slap sanctions on Nord Stream 2, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), was blocked last month in the Senate when it received 55 votes in favor, needing 60 votes to break a Democratic filibuster. The new pipeline is owned by Nord Stream 2 AG, a subsidiary of Gazprom, the Russian majority state-owned energy company, with Western partners including Germany’s Uniper and Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell. If Russia were to invade Ukraine, President Biden has laid down a clear marker that the Nord Stream 2 project would not be allowed to open.
A record number of liquid natural gas (LNG) shipments headed from the U.S. to Europe in recent weeks, according to the Guardian. On its own, the American exports would not be enough to make up for the vast Russian supply, but they would serve to develop trade channels for future shipments of fracked fossil gas to Germany. Last month, the U.S. overtook Qatar and Australia as the top LNG exporter, with production booming in the Permian Basin region despite the need to halve greenhouse gas emissions worldwide by 2030, according to the goals of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released in October 2018.
The fossil fuel industry rushed to link domestic gas exports with European security in a recent blog post by Mark Green (not the Tennessee Republican U.S. House member, about whom more in a moment), an editor and blogger with trade association the American Petroleum Institute (API). The API’s Green cheered on the LNG ships’ triangular markers leaving the Gulf Coast to head across the Atlantic. The right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page called to further scale up fossil fuel extraction, writing, “Europe’s climate obsessions have made it vulnerable to Russia, and so the Biden Administration is riding to the rescue by begging the Arabs and other energy producers to boost natural gas deliveries.”
Well-connected American gas companies are poised to capitalize on the export boom. Houston-headquartered Cheniere Energy is the largest LNG exporter in the U.S., billing itself as the second-largest in the world, and runs two export facilities on the Gulf Coast. In recent months, Cheniere signed long-term deals that helped secure financing for expansion, including at its Corpus Christi project in Texas. Sludge previously reported Biden’s multiple ties to Cheniere when he launched his presidential campaign in 2019, including tapping as a climate adviser Heather Zichal, who made over a million dollars as a Cheniere board member. Zichal was tapped in December 2020 to work as CEO of trade group the American Clean Power Association, which promotes renewable energy from wind and solar sources. The group’s board of directors features numerous executives at giant energy companies that use fossil fuels, including electric companies AEP, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, NextEra, and Xcel, as well as oil and gas company Equinor, conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, and AES, an energy company that operates LNG terminals. The International Energy Agency reiterated in May that new fossil fuel development projects must immediately be halted for the world to have a chance at staying within the boundaries of warming set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, beyond which the environmental destruction and social effects cannot be anticipated or accommodated.
With LNG exports on the rise, several wealthy members of Congress have hugely increased their investments in energy companies, especially pipeline companies and midstream service providers that transmit fossil gas to export terminals. Indiana Republican Rep. Trey Hollingsworth hoovered up millions of dollars worth of stock in Magellan Midstream Partners and Enterprise Products Partners last year, his sole area of stock investment. In 2020, Enterprise disclosed lobbying on “Oil and gas issues including legislation to limit exports of natural gas liquids and to ban fracking in natural gas and crude oil exploration and production activities.” In its most recent sustainability report, the Houston-based Enterprise discloses membership in dozens of trade associations, including API, which lobbied last year on multiple gas and oil export topics. Other House members with stock in Enterprise Products as of the end of 2020 include the following: Rep. Patrick Fallon (R-Texas), up to $50,000 worth; Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), up to $50,000 worth; Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), up to $15,000 worth; Rep. August Pfluger (R-Tex.), up to $15,000 worth; Pep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), up to $15,000 worth; and Rep. Tom Malinowski, who held up to $50,000 worth and transferred his investments to a blind trust in August 2021 after he was found to have violated House disclosure rules.
Conservative Rep. Mark Green, who represents a district encompassing the city of Clarksville in central Tennessee, was recently interviewed by National Public Radio on a trip to Kyiv along with the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). Green is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration and International Economic Policy. Not mentioned in the interview from Ukraine was Green’s millions of dollars worth of stock trades in oil and gas pipeline companies last year like Enable Midstream, Enlink Midstream, and Shell Midstream Partners. Just last month, Green purchased between $150,000 and $350,000 worth of stock in LNG and oil tanker company KNOT Offshore. As of the end of 2020, Green held millions of dollars worth of stock in four methane gas companies, but he diversified his holdings with over 150 stock transactions in the stocks of at least 20 energy and pipeline companies throughout 2021.
Sen. Cruz owns up to $250,000 worth of Enterprise stock in a joint trust, and his colleague Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) owns up to $500,000 worth of shares in Enterprise, which could see its exports to Europe rise if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is shut down because of Russian military actions.
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