Pennsylvania and LNG to Germany

Energy isn’t sexy until the lights go out, and it looks like Germany is in for a late-autumn un-robing. A bit nippy.

Can Pennsylvania help keep at least a couple Germany’s lights on and plants running? Why does it matter?

Yes, Pennsylvania can contribute to a country that imports about 95% of the nearly 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas it consumes annually? How? Liquified natural gas (LNG).

When the gas is cooled to about -260 F, liquefying it. This decreases the volume by 600 times and allows for more to be transported.

We are already extracting nearly 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from beneath our feet per year.

Only Texas exceeds that total, with over 9 trillion cubic feet.

Even with our own consumption, we can make a noticeable in Germany’s gap caused by Russian oil and gas embargos.

Aside from some logistical challenges, our primary competition in this market: United Arab Emirates. The challenge here is competing with Middle Eastern gas producers, because the gas produced at “virtually no cost as a byproduct of petroleum production.” Advantage: cultural ties dating back to the first Germans arriving at Jamestown in 1608. For Pennsylvania specifically, the ties began in 1683, when Franz Pastorius and others settled what is now known as Germantown near Philadelphia.

Why does culture and history matter here? As in most cases, people generally tend to trust and be more comfortable doing business with those with those with which we have some cultural connection. When that connection dates back hundreds of years, the bond is strong. A nation like UAE, which is 50 years old, will be hard-pressed to compete with that long an established relationship.

Here are some important numbers.

Europe was already expecting to import 86 million tons of LNG annually by 2050, that number will increase with the embargos against Russia.

Pennsylvania natural gas production stems from two sources: Utica and Marcellus Shale deposits. From 2026 and 2030, Marcellus and Utica Shale LNG production should reach about 1.2 million cubic meters daily. These rich reserves span across about two-thirds of our Commonwealth. Pennsylvania, a 2017 industry report maintains, has a “major competitive advantage is access to an expanding supply of low-cost natural gas.”

As with many western nations, Germany has been charging towards renewable energy sources for a few decades now, with Russian natural gas as a bridge fuel in the that transition. The country was also using nuclear fuel to meet need until biofuels, wind, and solar were more developed. However, the Merkel administration pushed through a nuclear plant ban in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The last German plant went offline this year. By July 2011, the Pennsylvania “Governors’ Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission” issued a report. The stars of transatlantic energy trade did not align here though. Instead, the PA report argued that conditions made it unlikely Pennsylvania would enter the global LNG market.

My, how things have changed.

Concerns remain, however, not the least being why America should send its natural gas halfway around the world. Well, there is profit. But Germany has banned fracking not only because of watershed issues, but also “because of the high risk of earthquakes,” according to Norbert Brackmann, the German government’s coordinator for the maritime industry.

Can seeing things through green-tinted lenses not see natural gas a fuel bridging us towards biofuels and renewables? Or, are the graver concerns at play? Indeed, just this month there were additional reports out of New Mexico and West Texas claiming that earthquakes were caused by drillers, though the causes of these incidents are debated.

Then there is the argument that shipping LNG across the Atlantic dirties more air than it is worth. Recent data tells us that shipping is not as “dirty” as one might think, at least comparatively. According to 2018 data, shipping only contributes about 3% of CO2 emissions globally. Although shipping and its residual greenhouse gas emissions are growing faster than other modes of transportation, it appears to be far less damaging than others.

Though just a sliver of the global energy industry picture, this German-American relationship is one that we need to bear in mind.


Christopher Brooks is is a history professor at East Stroudsburg University. Among other topics, he teaches about transatlantic trade history.

Author: Christopher Brooks
Publication: Real Clear Energy
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