lng power usa

Here Is the Gas That Is Supposed to Make Europe Independent of Putin

Germany is desperately seeking suppliers of liquefied natural gas. As the world’s largest LNG exporter, the USA is an obvious partner. Exclusive satellite images show the massive expansion of the industry not only in Texas.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by “Jannik Deters“. Access the original article here.

Donald Trump was right: Europe would become “a very, very big buyer” of American liquefied natural gas (LNG), he announced as U.S. president back in 2018 after a deal with then-EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker. Many attempts to sell Europe even more LNG, and four years later, Germany and the EU are now dependent on the US. Russia’s war against Ukraine is forcing Europeans to tap energy sources elsewhere. And latest satellite images from LiveEO now show: The United States has been preparing to replace Russian gas.

The EU wants to reduce gas imports from Russia by two-thirds by 2022. The German Institute for Economic Research even believes that, with the right efforts, Germany could become completely independent of Putin’s gas by the end of the year. But for that to happen, the EU countries need new partnerships like the one between Germany and Qatar, or at least massively expanded ones like the one with the United States.

Since 2016, corporations such as Shell and BP have been extracting gas from American soil in a big way. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, exports increased by 50 percent. Since the completion and expansion of the Sabine Pass and Calcasieu Pass plants, no country in the world now ships more LNG, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Satellite photos show the expansion of the giant industry in Texas – and the expansion of LNG terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

  • sabine pass lng terminal
  • sabine pass lng terminal
  • sabine pass lng terminal

Images: LiveEO/Skywatch, LiveEO/USGS

Demand has long since exceeded the original planning. The Sabine Pass terminal on the Texas-Louisiana border, for example, which has been in service for around 14 years, has already undergone several expansions, as can be seen in the satellite images. The sixth station, where natural gas is converted into LNG, has just been completed. A total of around 30 million tons of liquefied natural gas now reach the world market from there every year. Converted into cubic meters, this volume alone is equivalent to almost half of Germany’s annual natural gas consumption.

Almost at the same time, the plant at Calcasieu Pass has been completed. In 2018, green meadows and forests still dominated the landscape, the LiveEO images show. In Louisiana, the operators expect an annual production of ten million tons.

  • calcasieu pass lng terminal
  • calcasieu pass lng terminal
  • calcasieu pass lng terminal

Images: LiveEO/Skywatch

Six of the eight export sites in the USA are located on the Gulf of Mexico – in Texas and Louisiana. The energy industry has known for generations that there, and especially in west Texas, lie great riches in the earth. The 220,000 square kilometer basin has been economically developed for a long time. Oil was first produced there more than 100 years ago. The raw material transformed small towns like Odessa and Midland into booming cities. Texas rose to become an economic heavyweight. Today, the landscapes around the cities are littered with wells. From oil, but mostly from fracking for LNG. In the past 20 years, the number of fracking facilities has increased tenfold.

In Germany, the extraction method fracking is frowned upon by environmentalists and large parts of the population – although there are definitely versions and methods that are less harmful to nature.

Satellite imagery now clearly shows the push this industry has made in the southwestern U.S. – and what it has left in the ground.

Lng Stronghold Texas

This is where the USA exports its liquefied natural gas

lng stronghold texas
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration Graphic: Patrick Zeh

Throughout the area, wells are multiplying. This is how the American oil companies are trying to reach the huge oil and gas reserves that geologists have identified here. Thanks to ever-improving technology, these raw material deposits are now no longer beyond the reach of the extraction industry. New drilling and production technology is bringing the energy sources to the surface ever more efficiently. Fracking has ensured that the production volume in the Permian Basin, which had previously fallen for decades, is now rising again.

  • permian basin
  • permian basin
  • permian basin
  • permian basin
  • permian basin

Images: LiveEO/Skywatch, LiveEO/USGS

One-third of LNG exports already go to Europe. Since Trump’s time, Washington has been trying to sell even more LNG here. Putin’s war is now unexpectedly helping the U.S. achieve a breakthrough on the issue. In late March, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and U.S. President Joe Biden announced a deal to supply an additional 15 billion cubic meters of LNG.

The deal helps the EU states – and is highly attractive for Biden’s industry. The EU has committed to buying further, even larger volumes by 2030. In a calculation from early March this year, the EIA forecasts a 65 percent increase in exports to Europe by 2033. This estimate may yet prove conservative in view of the war.

permian basin south of odessapermian basin south of odessa
Permian Basin, South of Odessa, Texas, USA.
26.11.1999 (left image): Fallow land in the eastern part of the basin. Sporadic holes are visible.
14.03.2022 (right image): Now the area is littered with drill pits.

The problem is: The gas cannot be brought in as easily and quickly as German Economics Minister Robert Habeck and his colleagues would like to use routes other than those from Russia. Companies cannot simply back out of existing supply contracts. There are also logistical difficulties: Germany obtains the gas landed as LNG primarily via pipelines from Rotterdam and Belgium’s Zeebrugge. Germany does not have its own terminals to which the LNG can reach by ship. Spain and Portugal do have many such terminals. These also have sufficient capacity to cope with an increase in LNG imports. But there is a problem with onward transport because the capacity of the pipelines is reaching its limits. The inconvenient alternative is for the LNG to be imported via the UK – and from there to flow through pipelines to Belgium and the Netherlands.

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