As part of the Climate Desk partnership, this article was originally published by the Guardian and is being reprinted here.
The Joe Biden administration has been asked not to undermine its own climate goals by sanctioning an unprecedented expansion of oil export infrastructure off the Texas coast, which might result in emissions that are sufficient to warm the world for three years’ worth of US emissions.
The Sea Port oil terminal project, a proposed offshore oil platform 35 miles off the Texas coast, south of Houston, has already received covert approval from the federal government.
The federal government will also determine whether to approve three other nearby oil terminal plans. The four terminals would be able to handle half of the country’s existing oil exports, increasing US oil exports by approximately 7 million barrels daily.
An analysis done for the GuardianbyGlobal Energy Monitor found that if all of these projects are permitted to move forward and then run at full capacity for their anticipated 30-year lifespan, it will result in an astounding 24 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases once the transported oil is burned.
Critics assert that these massive carbon bomb projects irreparably damage Biden’s reputation as a president who has taken strong action to address the climate catastrophe. The International Energy Agency has issued a warning that no new significant fossil fuel infrastructure can be created if the world is to prevent disastrous global warming.
According to Baird Langenbrunner, an analyst at Global Energy Monitor, the amount of oil passing through these projects and the resulting emissions are quite astounding. He also noted that the total amount of emissions is probably a worst-case scenario because it is unlikely that all four terminals will be constructed and then run at full capacity for decades.
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Yet even if the emissions are slightly lower, Langenbrunner said that we are already moving closer to the time when we must stop emitting altogether. It is disingenuous for the Biden administration to permit the construction of these projects while claiming that the US wants to reduce its own emissions. Any additional emissions are in direct opposition to global warming goals.
Oil from the massive Permian basin, which is under Texas and New Mexico, would be extracted and delivered from the terminals that are being considered. It would then be fed through a system of pipelines to enormous tankers that would transport it from the Gulf of Mexico to customers abroad.
The devastating climate problem will worsen even if the emissions from burned oil would not be included in the US’s overall carbon pollution, which Vice President Biden has pledged to cut in half this decade.
With a capacity of 2 million barrels per day, the Sea Port oil terminal, a joint venture between Enterprise, Enbridge, and Chevron, will be the largest oil export terminal in the US once it is constructed.
Notwithstanding Biden’s climate pledges and Republican accusations that the US president has banned domestic drilling, this represents about a quarter of all the oil the US presently exports daily and is part of a national boom in oil production that will reach historic levels this year and next.
140 miles of land-based and underwater pipes will be connected by the project to an onshore storage facility close to the city of Freeport. Two undersea pipelines will connect to the deepwater port offshore. This is a crucial necessity for the oil industry, which has struggled to move massive amounts of the Permian basin’s resources due to a lack of deep ports on the Texas coast that can accommodate the largest oil tankers.
The US Department of Transportation’s maritime administration gave its approval for the Sea Port oil terminal’s development in November, citing the increased need for additional oil and gas in Europe as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to the agency’s judgment, the project is in the interest of the country since it will provide jobs, promote economic growth, and increase the security and resilience of the US energy system. The port will provide a steady source of crude oil to American allies in the event of market disruption.
The EPA also recommended that the Sea Port oil terminal move forward, however with mitigation measures to prevent disproportionately negative effects on low-income and people of color who will likely bear the brunt of the new development. Ozone, a pollutant linked to a variety of respiratory issues, already falls short of national clean air criteria in Brazoria county, which encompasses Freeport.
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The Biden administration’s record on climate change and environmental justice, according to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, has been tarnished by their claims that the oil terminal will threaten the critically endangered Rice’s whale, expose already overburdened communities of color to toxic air, and produce emissions equal to operating 90 coal-fired power plants.
Meanwhile, three further proposed terminals with names like Texas Gulf Link, Blue Marlin Offshore Port, and Bluewater Texas which are in various stages of development are waiting for the maritime administration’s decision on permits. The Texas GulfLinkproject passes through the quaint village of Jones Creek and is situated within a few miles of the Sea Port oil facility.
The US scarcely exported any fossil fuels up until 2015, when Congress overturned a moratorium on crude oil exports. Nevertheless, because of a glut of shale oil and fracking activities, the nation is now the third-largest oil exporter in the world and the top exporter of liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
Along the Gulf of Mexico coast, at least 16 gas export terminals have been approved or are being built, which, along with the increased oil activity, has sparked new worries among environmental justice advocates for coastal communities already struggling with unsafe conditions and toxic air pollution.
An LNG export facility in Freeport burst in June of last year as a result of what regulators claim were operational systemic flaws.
The number of pipelines we already have and the risks we face, such as explosions and oil spills, are shocking; it is simply too much, according to Melanie Oldham, a Freeport resident and air quality activist who claims that many of her neighbors have asthma and other health problems as a result of living close to a maze of polluting facilities.
We live in a low-income area. Herpanics make up 65 percent of the population, and it seems that oil terminal developments are always wanted here, according to her. We are a zone of sacrifice. We constantly worry about it and just want it to end.
Oldham participated in a demonstration against the planned oil terminals in Washington, DC, last year, which resulted in four arrests. She expressed her deep disappointment that Biden had presided over an increase in oil drilling despite having pledged to stop it when he ran for president.
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At his most recent State of the Union speech, Biden stated that the United States would need oil for at least another ten years, if not longer. Biden has consistently campaigned for increased oil drilling to lower gasoline prices for US drivers.
The Biden administration’s continued support for controversial fossil fuel drilling projects, like the Willow project in Alaska’s Arctic, runs the risk of undermining its major victories in the fight against climate change, like the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, a $370 billion package to transition the US to clean energy. For many climate advocates, Biden’s phrasing has proved confusing.
According to Kelsey Crane, senior policy advocate at the environmental organization Earthworks, these oil terminals will force us to commit to decades of greenhouse gas emissions and put our capacity to reach national and international climate objectives in jeopardy.
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The Biden administration’s ongoing fossil fuel growth runs counter to the science of what needs to be done to prevent the direct effects of climate change. If we don’t phase out fossil fuels, we can’t invest in clean energy. Thus, we need to re-establish the oil export prohibition and consider a planned decline for fossil fuels under this administration.
A marine administration spokeswoman declined to comment on how its approvals align with global warming objectives but claimed that the Sea Port oil terminal will produce a more secure and effective method of oil export.