WWNO skyline header graphic
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Sea Change

All Gassed Up, Part 2: The German Connection

Activists from the Gulf Coast and Germany come together to protest the global expansion of LNG in Wilhelmshaven, Germany.
Halle Parker
Activists from the Gulf Coast and Germany come together to protest the global expansion of LNG in Wilhelmshaven, Germany.

Until the Ukraine War, Russia was Europe’s biggest supplier of natural gas. After the invasion, political leaders wanted off Russian gas, and fast. So, they turned to the U.S. In part two, we follow American gas all the way to Germany — Europe’s biggest energy consumer, where the energy crisis hit hardest. U.S. LNG provided a lifeline for Germany. But what happens when a country gets hooked?

“All Gassed Up” is a special 3-part series from Sea Change. This special series is part of the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative. For more information, go to pulitzercenter.org/connected-coastlines.

This episode was hosted, reported, and produced by Carlyle Calhoun and Halle Parker. It was edited by Morgan Springer, Rosemary Westwood, and Eve Abrams. Additional help was provided by Ryan Vasquez and Eva Tesfaye. The episode was fact-checked by Garrett Hazelwood. Our sound designer is Emily Jankowski. Our theme music is by Jon Batiste.

Special thanks to Andy Gheorghiu, Felix Heilmann, Julian Wettengel, Boris Richter, and all of the people who helped us with our reporting in Germany.

Sea Change is a WWNO and WRKF production. We are part of the NPR Podcast Network and distributed by PRX. To see more of our reporting on LNG, visit WWNO.org/podcast/sea-change. And to help others find our podcast, hit subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and don’t forget to rate and review!



NEWS ARCHIVAL: Breaking news at 11. A Russian invasion of Ukraine is underway as troops move in right now. 

NEWS ARCHIVAL: These are among the darkest hour for Europe since the end of World War Two. 

CARLYLE: When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, it set off a war. a humanitarian disaster.

HALLE: But Russia’s invasion also led to ANOTHER kind of crisis. An energy crisis.

CARLYLE: Because Europe’s biggest supplier of gas… Was Russia.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: Russian gas accounts for roughly 40 percent of Europe's consumption.  

HALLE: And no country in the European Union bought more Russian gas than GERMANY. Look at a map of pipelines from Russia to Europe…and the biggest end in Germany. From there, more pipelines distribute the Russian gas across the rest of the continent.

CARLYLE: Those deep energy ties between Europe and Russia, they were actually designed to keep the peace. 50 years ago, the first gas pipeline between Russia and Germany was built as a way to thaw the Cold War. And it was a sweet deal for both sides: Germany supplied pipes and equipment, Russia – the gas. For cheap.

HALLE: BUT EVEN THEN, some worried that this deal could give Russia too much power over Europe.

CARLYLE: And eventually… it did. After Russia invaded Ukraine, European countries slapped Putin with a ton of sanctions and Putin struck back.

ARCHIVAL:  Russia is shutting down gas supplies from a major pipeline to Europe.

CARLYLE: One day, the gas would be flowing, the next: shut down. And then… the biggest pipeline from Russia to Germany – the Nord Stream – was blown up.

HALLE: So Europe’s energy crisis ESCALATED. People feared widespread blackouts.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: Europeans are desperately trying to get hold of as much firewood as they can in order to get through what they fear will be an excruciating winter season.

CARLYLE: The crisis hit hardest in Germany, Europe’s biggest energy consumer. Political leaders wanted off Russian gas, but it would be tough. They needed new sources of gas. FAST. So, they turned to the U.S.

BIDEN: We are coming together to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.

HALLE: As you might remember from Episode One, the US BY THIS POINT, WAS flush with natural gas. And it had a way to ship it overseas – with massive, new terminals along the Gulf Coast exporting LNG. liquified natural gas.

President Joe Biden said America would help save Europe. By selling them LNG.


HALLE: I’m Halle Parker.

CARLYLE: And I’m Carlyle Calhoun. And you’re listening to “All Gassed Up,” a special series from Sea Change in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

HALLE: In the last episode. We witnessed the expansion of LNG export plants along the Gulf Coast.

OBAMA: We, it turns out, are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. 

CASSIDY: I'm told that the fourth largest construction project in the world is in South Louisiana. 

CARLYLE: And what these big LNG projects mean for the people living there.

TRAVIS: It seemed like at times we'd wake up in the morning gasping for air. That's not supposed to happen. 

Music in the clear

CARLYLE: Today on Sea Change, we bring you episode two of our three-part series. US LNG provided a lifeline for Germany. But what happens when a country gets hooked?

STEFFI: Quack, quack, quack. Now you see the ducks, it's not gooses, they are smaller. …  

HALLE: Carlyle and I are sitting in a car looking out at a muddy beach. We’re with Steffi Eilers. That’s her quacking.

STEFFI: I'm 50 years old, mother of two. 

HALLE: Steffi is tall, with short blond hair. She’s been showing us around a small port city in northern Germany. It’s called Wilhelmshaven. Steffi lives here. She knows everything about this place.

STEFFI: The Wadden Sea at the moment is low tide. So we can see the migratory birds and the seagulls eating at the moment, the shells that are here in the mud in the front. At the moment the sun is rising.

<<Ambi of waves/birds comes up, stay under>>

CARLYLE: Between the gulls and sound of the ocean, it almost feels like we’re back in coastal Louisiana. Wilhelmshaven also has a mix of wild, protected nature preserves smack up next to big industry. Driving with Steffi, we see the familiar sight of oil refineries, although here, they are backdropped by wind turbines.

HALLE: And now, just in front of us, another familiar sight.

STEFFI: We're just sitting in front of the LNG terminal in the port of Hookziel. 

HALLE: We’re looking at a huge LNG ship. Only it’s not just a ship. It’s been converted. It’s now a liquified natural gas import terminal. One that floats.

And another ship — equally large — is docked at the terminal.

CARLYLE: And it looks like there's actually an LNG tanker here.

STEFFI: Yes, it came yesterday, and it came direct from Savannah.

HALLE: Savannah… Georgia. We watch as the tanker unloads American gas.

CARLYLE: if Louisiana was ground zero for the American export boom, this is ground zero for the German import boom.

HALLE: After the ship unloads here, the supercooled LNG is reheated at this giant, floating import terminal. Then the gas is sent down pipelines into Germany… and the rest of Europe.

CARLYLE: The German Parliament leased this floating facility – their first – after the start of the Ukraine War and the scramble began to get off Russian gas. Because they float, these import ships tend to be considered temporary. Able to migrate from port to port as needed. But Steffi wonders if they’re stuck with it for good.

HALLE: Some of the things that I've read is that this terminal is supposed to be temporary. Do you think that that's true? 


HALLE: Why is that?  

STEFFI: We're addicted to gas. 

HALLE: As we sit there with Steffi on the edge of the Wadden Sea, we wonder how much American LNG is coming here from back home–from the Gulf Coast.

CARLYLE: Steffi didn’t know the answers. But she knew a guy who did.

JOCHEN: In Hamburg sagt man tschüss. 

HALLE: Jochen Martin was a sailor for 30 years and then a ship captain.

JOCHEN: My father was seaman. My grandfather was seaman. three uncles from me were seaman. 

CARLYLE: So Jochen knows how to track a ship. He checks the logs daily. And he’s been tracking all the LNG ships arriving here.

JOCHEN: Sit down here.  

HALLE: We gather around his computer. He pulls up a world map with thousands of tiny arrows in a rainbow of colors.

JOCHEN: That's all the ships, the green and red. 

CARLYLE: He starts going down his list of how many LNG ships have come in so far, and from what export terminal.

CARLYLE: That's the first one that came? 

JOCHEN: That was the first one, yeah. 

JOCHEN: From Sabine Pass. 

HALLE: Sabine Pass. LNG is in Cameron Parish, Louisiana. It’s currently the largest export terminal in the world. Jochen keeps going down the list.

JOCHEN: Freeport, Texas. Uh, Texas cameron. Mm-Hmm. , Louisiana. 11 … Lake Charles 14 <<duck>>

HALLE: So far over 40 ships have arrived here from the US. Nearly all of them from the Gulf Coast. Until the war in Ukraine, very little US LNG went to Europe. Now, the only country sending Europe more gas than us is Norway.

CARLYLE: Last year more than 80% of Germany’s LNG came from the US. Enough gas to power almost a fifth of German homes for a year. And even more US LNG arrives in Germany after first making a pitstop in other European countries.

HALLE: President Biden says this is just the beginning. The U.S. plans to ramp up LNG exports to Europe each year through the end of the decade.


HALLE: But, just because President Biden promised Germany to send all this LNG after the start of the Ukraine war, that didn’t mean it was so easy for Germany to accept it. Remember, Germany’s system relied on Russian gas from pipelines…US LNG comes in on ships. That meant they had to build a whole new system of importing gas. And had to build it super fast. And it was one guy's job to make it happen. The architect of Germany’s energy overhaul.

BENGT: So, hi, my name is Bengt Bergt. 

CARLYLE: Bengt Bergt. What a fun name. Bengt is the deputy speaker for energy and climate of the Social Democrat Party. One of the three parties currently leading Germany’ government.

BENGT: I have two main responsibilities on the one hand wind power. As you can see, my room is filled with wind turbines, wind turbine models.

HALLE: So. many. models of wind turbines. On his desk, hanging on the walls…

CARLYLE: Over a quarter of Germany runs on wind power. The country has the most wind turbines in Europe and is actually a global pioneer in green energy. But Bengt says that’s despite the super slow process of getting projects approved.

BENGT: so every windmill in Germany, every windmill, we have 30,000, had a lawsuit on it. Every single one. 

CARLYLE: When I came to Germany I knew the stereotype of German efficiency. Punctual people. trains arriving exactly on time.

HALLE: But Bengt disagrees with this stereotype. Instead of efficiency, Bengt says Gemany specializes in bureaucracy.

BENGT: So we are just saying we were managing us to death because we have a gridlock situation in so many cases. 

HALLE: Bengt says this bottleneck happens with every new development. And when the gas from Russia stopped, Bengt knew this was no time for gridlock. Fixing this energy crisis was all on his shoulders. Because Bengt is in charge of wind power on the one hand…

BENGT: and on the other hand, the natural gas infrastructure. 

CARLYLE: So despite the fact that Germany has one of the world’s most ambitious renewable energy plans, the country is still very reliant on gas. Bengt says they couldn’t just get off it immediately. Big Industry runs on gas. Half of German homes are heated with gas. Transitioning off would take time.

BENGT:  I see a lot of people that say, Oh, natural gas is not right energy supplier. but within the next 10 years we need the natural gas in the amounts we need it right now,

HALLE: That meant, Bengt had a lot to figure out…so he and his team pulled an all-nighter. And the first thing they came up with was a new law.

BENGT: and we introduced something we call the Überragende Öffentliche Interesse,

CARLYLE: will you say that one again? 

BENGT: Yeah. Überragendes öffentliches Interesse. 

CARLYLE: In English, the LNG Acceleration Act. It was a close vote, but the law passed German Parliament. Normally building any kind of energy project like these LNG import terminals would have taken forever. Because, like the U.S, Germany strongly believes citizens have the right to disagree with their government. They have the right to fight projects like these. On top of that, Germany has extremely rigorous environmental reviews. But this newly passed law, well, it pretty much squashes all of that.

BENGT: to build the infrastructure we need right now on the fast track, that's why we said, okay, we have to take back lots of the individual rights, let's step them back. we enabled that  the environmental checkup is being quick passed.  And say we focus now on the common interest.

CARLYLE: The common interest? saving Germans from the Russian gas crisis. SO with this

BENGT: Überragende Öffentliche Interesse. 

CARLYLE: Germany approved five LNG import terminals and new pipelines in record breaking time. And, more could be on the way. Huge and expensive publicly funded fossil fuel projects, all of which would have been unheard of in Germany before Russia invaded Ukraine.

BENGT: Germany is a big gas tanker, but we are moving it like a speedboat right now.


HALLE: A LOT has happened super fast, like this controversial law to throw the country’s rules out the window. That’s not how things usually work in Germany. But the government said it all had to happen to move off Russian gas and keep the heat on. And, it wasn’t just Germany’s top politicians who supported this rapid build-out of LNG terminals.

MALTE: Everybody was worried about a real shortage of gas and most people were supporting those plans. // 

CARLYLE: Malte Kreutzfeldt has been an energy journalist in Germany for 20 years. Malte looks like he’s about 7 feet tall and when we meet on the streets of Berlin, he rides up on his bike, while wearing a blazer. Hair a little windblown. Malte says most regular Germans also believed that if the country didn’t act quickly they could run out of energy.

MALTE: There was a big fear that in winter, industry might have to be shut down or even there wouldn't be enough gas for heating. 

CARLYLE: The German government launched an online campaign urging people to cut energy use. One ad asked Germans to take colder, shorter showers. And it worked. People started turning down their thermostats.

MALTE: There were even some bans. You weren't allowed to keep the doors of shops open during the day in winter so no heat could escape.

HALLE: Local governments turned off public fountains. Germany even fired up some old coal plants. But more crucially: Industrial plants lowered production.

CARLYLE: There was a lot of nail-biting, then winter came. The only LNG plant up and running was the one in Wilhelmshaven. Energy prices were 10 times higher than usual. And yet...

MALTE: In the end, there was no shortage at all in that first winter.


HALLE: Using less energy, burning coal and new LNG was enough to get Germany through the winter with ease, Malte says. The weather was also warmer than usual – so that helped. Everyone was relieved.

CARLYLE: And then… after all this fast-tracking of LNG, Germans were like: wait a minute. If we didn’t need a gigantic expansion of LNG during that first winter, do we need it at all?

Malte says the government started to question the expansion too. There was even a leaked government document that showed the majority of LNG import terminals planned weren’t necessary.

MALTE: There was this big misconception that we thought we need them, and we don't // we are safe even without them because we can get enough gas from the neighboring countries.

HALLE: Most of Germany’s gas ACTUALLY came from its European neighbors, the Netherlands, and Norway. So, Germany barely used its new import terminal that winter.

CARLYLE: So, after creating a law specifically to fast-track LNG import terminals, the German Parliament slowed down the plans: instead of building 12 import terminals, Parliament cut that to five.

But the officials didn’t gut the plans altogether.

MALTE: Now the argument of the government is yes, if everything goes well, we don't need them, but we need them as an insurance for in case something goes wrong.

CARLYLE: Politicians are still afraid that another pipeline could be blown up. They don’t want to worry about running out of gas. And they also want to diversify…not make the same mistake of being too dependent on energy from any one country.

HALLE: The only import terminals operating in Germany now are floating ones, like we saw in Wilhelmshaven. There are STILL plans to build large permanent onshore import terminals, BUT there is now more pushback on those plans than ever.

MALTE: There's this feeling we don't need them. Definitely we don't need more.

CARLYLE: From the beginning, there were people like Steffi who thought the LNG terminals were a bad idea. She’s the woman who took us to see the country’s first import terminal in Wilhelmshaven–the one quacking at ducks. Steffi’s the leader of a local environmental group. She’s super energetic, always zipping around town from one event to another. And she hosts her own radio show, all about energy.

STEFFI: wir haben Gäste, ich bin Stefanie Eilers vom Netzwerk Energie Drehscheibe  Hey Carlyle and Halle. Air  Like Profie in das Business and I blass  Joan Show.

HALLE: Yup, we joined her on-air to talk about LNG. The day that we met her by the beach on the Wadden Sea, she ended up driving us all over her town, looking at nature preserves disrupted by new pipelines. She says bypassing environmental reviews to fast-track LNG is already creating problems.

STEFFI: The ships are poisoning the water. Every ship is poisoning in the water.

HALLE: The floating plants flush their equipment with chlorine — to clean it. And a lot of that chlorine gets dumped into the ocean. Even in small amounts, chlorine can be toxic to marine life.

CARLYLE: And the chlorine dumping is just one example of environmental consequences. In another city, a new LNG pipeline endangered acres of wetlands. One German island is even suing the government over potential environmental threats from another LNG terminal.

And the concerns go beyond the local impact. Environmentalists fear LNG has an outsized contribution to climate change.

STEFFI: We are doing everything, but not thinking about that, what we are living in nature. 


HALLE: We told you in Episode 1 that natural gas has long been touted as a “bridge” fuel. That it’s cleaner than coal. But the claim isn’t really true … at least not how it’s working these days. A little chemistry lesson here: the core component of gas is methane. When methane’s burned, it does release less carbon dioxide than coal.

CARLYLE: But, turns out, a lot of methane gas isn’t being burned before it enters the atmosphere. Deep investigations have found that the natural gas industry is very. leaky. Methane escapes during drilling, from pipelines and even out of facilities. At every step.

HALLE: Over the years, research has found that if methane leaks, it starts to cause problems. You see, methane is a climate superpolluter. It traps at least 85 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. It’s like adding lighter fluid to global warming.

And the claim that natural gas is clean gets even more problematic with LNG.

CARLYLE: Think about it: the gas industry is already dealing with methane leaks when it comes to gas simply piped to its destination. Now, factor in all the additional chances to leak plus the huge amount of energy needed to supercool the gas, ship it around the world AND reheat it. New research suggests LNG, over its lifetime, could actually be even worse than coal.

Steffi says it’s bad for Germany’s big climate goals and the whole planet.

STEFFI: So we should stop this methane sh*t immediately.

CARLYLE: She says just looking at the floating terminal makes her feel sick. She feels like there are other ways for the country to get the energy it needs.

STEFFI: If you know that lots of billions of euros are taken to raise this instead of renewable energy, we could have built solar panels, we could have built windmills, we could have done all that instead of this, and it could have worked.

HALLE: The researchers we talked to say it would’ve been impossible for Germany to build out enough renewables to replace Russian gas in time for winter. But Steffi has a point. Several reports have found Germany didn’t need to build new gas import terminals to avoid catastrophe. Even without the warm winter. So directing that money toward renewables might have been smarter. But Steffi’s biggest worry? That her own country’s “gas addiction,” as she calls it, has ripple effects beyond Germany’s borders.

CARLYLE: Up next, we find out who’s really footing the bill for the expansion of LNG plants back in the U.S.

HALLE: Here’s the thing, everyone we’ve been talking to in our reporting begins the story of Germany’s LNG expansion with Russia invading Ukraine. They say, that’s when Europe wanted to get LNG from the US and that’s why companies back home in America said we needed to expand LNG export terminals. That Europe needed us to save them from Russia.

CARLYLE: But this story of US LNG and Europe didn’t start then. It started earlier.

For years before the war, US companies were pitching American LNG to Europe. But Europe wasn’t biting.

CONSTANTIN: LNG is much more expensive than pipeline gas.

HALLE: That’s Constantin Zerger, a leader of Environmental Action Germany – the country’s largest environmental organization. Constantin is smartly dressed, wearing a pressed white button-down, and horn-rimmed glasses. His group has increasingly become more concerned about Germany’s LNG expansion.

CARLYLE: He says the war in Ukraine presented a special moment for US LNG companies, hoping to extend demand for natural gas.

CONSTANTIN: Everybody knows that you can't really invest into new fossil infrastructure. Time's gone. So for them, this is an unexpected opportunity to prolong the lifetime of their business model. 

CARLYLE: Constantin tells us CEOs from companies like Venture Global – the company you heard about in the first episode — stepped up their lobbying in Germany. And he believes that STRONGLY influenced the expansion of LNG. He’s not sure it would have happened without that pressure.

CONSTANTIN: So, this is not just happening by coincidence. It's driven by business interests. And that's something I want to say very clearly. 

CARLYLE: Constantin argues German citizens are NOT benefitting from this buildout.

CONSTANTIN: This is not about energy security in Europe or in Germany. This is about companies making big money. They want to make cash.

CARLYLE: And Constantin’s not only talking about US oil and gas companies. He’s talking about Germany. And this is a HUGE deal. [PAUSE] Because German banks are actually in on this – they’ve been helping FINANCE the expansion of export terminals back in the U.S. German banks are in on this LNG gold rush.

CONSTANTIN: They want to make money as well So they invest in those projects and in some some cases. I think that german banks are even making them possible.

HALLE: Germany – one of the countries leading the world in green energy – is not only driving up demand by BUYING the gas, it’s paying for U.S. export terminals. And researchers say – out of the whole LNG system – these export terminals are actually the most damaging for the planet.

CARLYLE: You may remember, the LNG export terminals on the Gulf Coast are EXTREMELY expensive to build. We are talking billions of dollars expensive. So they need a lot of financing. Like we said a minute ago, some of the biggest German banks have stepped up to the plate with key investments.

Deutsche Bank, the largest bank in the country, has led the way. Even Germany’s government-owned banks have jumped in. Meaning, they’re actually using public money to finance fossil fuel projects in another country. We sent repeated requests to key German banks, but none agreed to comment.

All told, German banks have so far lent over 5 billion dollars to finance new LNG export terminals along the Gulf Coast.

HALLE: For example, that LNG plant under construction in episode 1 – the one just outside of New Orleans – Constantin says it wouldn’t have been built without money from German banks.

CONSTANTIN: So there are many links and that's all driven by money and greed.

HALLE: Some Parliament members have the same concerns as Constantin. What does it mean for Germany to finance the export boom in the U.S.? One leader took her concern a step further.

KATHRIN: I'm a member of the German Parliament. // And in the Parliament, I'm in the Committee for Climate and Energy. // And I just arrived in New Orleans.

CARLYLE: Kathrin Henneberger has bright red hair, clear blue eyes and a soft voice. It’s her first term as a member of Parliament, or an MP. She came up as a youth climate activist. Once, she even camped high in a beech tree for months in protest of new coal development. And won.

HALLE: We meet her on our side of the Atlantic. In Louisiana. It’s her first time in the U.S., and just like how Carlyle and I wanted to find out where this gas was going, she wanted to find out where it came from.

KATHRIN: I'm very, very honored to be here and to learn about the communities and the situation on the ground.

HALLE: I drove Kathrin from New Orleans to Cameron Parish, near the Texas-Louisiana border. It’s the town you know from last episode. We toured the region with locals, starting in Lake Charles, a city just north of Cameron. And a hotspot for the petrochemical industry. There aren’t any LNG export plants in Lake Charles yet, though several have been proposed.

HALLE: One turn off the interstate and we’re surrounded by industrial complexes — masses of steel and pipelines sending plumes of smoke into the air. We approach one of the sprawling facilities…it sits right next to houses.

CARLYLE: And that catches Kathrin by surprise. As we’ve heard, Germany has its own heavy industry and oil refining. But she says it’s nothing like Louisiana.

KATHRIN: We also have refineries. a little bit like the same structures. What is different here is that the houses are so close to the industrial area. 

HALLE: This chemical complex has the footprint of a city. It’s called Sasol. The company has expanded, encroaching on a nearby Black community. It was settled by people who were once enslaved. Historians say Louisiana’s history with plantations poised the state for its petrochemical bonanza. And these communities are the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. While driving, Kathrin says the connection is clear.

KATHRIN: In this region, there is structural racism where people live. black communities to this day are suffering from the system. 

CARLYLE: A system that overburdens marginalized communities with pollution. This same system lays the groundwork for the current LNG buildout here.

KATHRIN: This is something in Germany, we have to know about Louisiana, especially if German companies are coming in and getting these contracts with this region. From that point on, we are also a part of driving this unjust situation further. 

CARLYLE: After seeing everything she had, Kathrin says she feels a responsibility to take these stories back to her country. Especially when she thinks about how Germany is supporting environmental racism.

HALLE: And she does. The next time we see Kathrin is back in Germany, in Berlin.

KATHRIN: Thank you for being here today.

CARLYLE: We’re in a glass-domed room in the Bundestag — one of the German Parliament buildings. We’re here for breakfast. Trays of pretzels and sandwiches are spread out on a long conference table. Kathrin sits at the head of the table. The rest of the seats are filled with staffers for other Parliament members and environmental groups.

HALLE: Except for a handful where a few special guests sit.

KATHRIN: Today we have representatives of Louisiana and Texas who are struggling against the new LNG facilities.

HALLE: Everyone’s here to listen to a trio of Texas women. They’re from the heart of oil and gas country, and they’re on a crusade across Europe to oppose the LNG expansion on the Gulf Coast.

CARLYLE: The group has bounced from country to country, sharing what it’s like to live in the epicenter of the global gas boom.

HALLE: Rebekah Hinojosa says there was a field right next to her college campus in North Texas where gas was fracked.

REBEKAH: The drill went underneath the campus. An environmental organization, uh, used a special camera called a flare camera and showed us a video of just toxic pollution being emitted into the dorms. So, as I'm being overburdened with student loan debt, I find out that I'm being continuously poisoned by the fracking industry.

CARLYLE: You might remember fracking kicked off the United States’ natural gas frenzy. Well, fracking is banned in Germany. Whereas Texas has banned BANS of fracking. Rebekah says her home is overrun by the oil and gas industry. And these sites, like in Louisiana, are disproportionately placed near minority communities. Something that would never happen in Germany.

REBEKAH: When countries like, like Germany import gas, specifically importing gas from sacred Native Indigenous lands, you are turning us into a fossil fuel extraction colony.

HALLE: This is a strong statement, yet it’s not far-fetched. Think back to elementary school history class. The U.S. started out as a colony for the British. A place for them to exploit this vast country’s natural resources. Rebekah says that by bankrolling these export plants, Germany is stepping into the same position.

CARLYLE: And the conversation hit home. The group started talking about potential policy changes, big ideas like completely banning imports of fracked gas. That probably won’t happen any time soon, but these concerns have gotten the attention of officials like Bengt Bergt. He says it’s not lost on him that Germany is supporting fracking by buying LNG from the US.

BENGT:  I'm very, very keen on, taking care that the people don't suffer. If you have concerns regarding the society impact, the environmental impact or any impact you see, make it loud. We hear it in Germany.

CARLYLE: And there have been some changes. For the first time, Germany passed a law that puts human rights and the environment at the forefront for corporations. It’s about accountability. Companies can now be penalized for violations in any part of its supply chain. And that could have implications for the LNG industry. The entire European Union is considering even stricter regulation.

BENGT: When you only see perhaps from the Louisiana perspective that Germany is the ones that caused now a export terminal to become existent. Please take a look beyond that. See that we are one of the countries that have already now the highest production of renewable energy. We want to exceed that massively.

HALLE: In other words, Bengt tells us, yes Germany may temporarily be causing increased demand for our LNG, a fossil fuel, and yes, they are providing substantial financing to fossil fuel projects along the Gulf Coast, but Germany doesn’t intend to stay hooked on our LNG for long.

CARLYLE: Remember …

BENGT: Überragende Öffentliche Interesse

CARLYLE: Well, not only did Germany fast-track LNG projects, the country also passed another law to fast-track renewables.

HALLE: For the first time last year, Germany produced more than half of the country’s energy from renewables. Solar and wind projects are popping off. Germany didn’t just double down on fossil fuels, it doubled down on renewables.

BENGT: And we want to help you also to become environmentally friendly. And get out of fossil fuels as soon as possible. 

CARLYLE: We ask Bengt if he thinks all the import terminals they’re building are really necessary. If Germany really is sprinting towards carbon neutrality, why pour billions of dollars into fossil fuel projects they won’t want in the coming years?

BENGT: So to build up the capacity doesn't mean capacity is being used. The possibility is there, but the reality shows us that it's not happening.

HALLE: Meaning, just because they build them, doesn’t mean they’ll use them. As we’ve heard, there are lots of LNG import terminals in Europe that aren’t being fully used. And may never need to be. They’re there just in case.

CARLYLE: Germany still wants to get fully off Russian gas. Even with the help of US LNG, Germany’s not quite there yet. The country still receives some gas from Russia, but way less than it used to. But Bengt makes it clear: Germany wants to get off our gas too. And As soon as possible.

HALLE: Even the company that owns the LNG import terminal in Wilhelmshaven calls LNG a quote “transitional solution” unquote. A stop-gap until the world is actually carbon neutral.

CARLYLE: Ah The familiar “bridge fuel” argument appears again. But unlike back in the US, every German we spoke to, no matter their political stripe, did actually talk about the bridge ending. Getting off of gas.

HALLE: So, turns out, Germany isn’t abandoning its climate goals, despite the country’s huge investments in LNG in the U.S. and new import terminals. German officials even talk about converting those LNG import terminals to accept clean energy in the near future. But as “green” as all that sounds, Germany isn’t truly washing its hands of all this methane-leaking LNG.

CARLYLE: We discovered another bombshell. There’s one more factor in this equation of how Germany is propelling LNG expansion on the Gulf Coast. There’s Germany’s gas demand, and there’s the German banks investing in U.S. LNG export plants. Then, Constantin tells us there’s a third way, one with big consequences for the planet.

CONSTANTIN: It's all about those long-term contracts.

HALLE: Long. Term. Contracts. You see, U.S. companies selling LNG have to do more than just secure financing to build their expensive export terminals. They also have to prove they can sell their LNG once the terminals are built. That they can pay off those billions of dollars of debt.

CONSTANTIN: The reason behind that is that of course, no one would invest in such a facility, if he or she wouldn't have the certainty that it will pay off.

CARLYLE: German import terminals can sit idle without issue, because not that much money was sunk into constructing them. But export terminals on the other hand, investors need those plants to ship out as much gas as possible.

HALLE: So, German companies are inking deals with LNG companies that lock them into buying U.S. gas for 15 to 20 years. With export plants that are still under construction. Meaning, German companies are obligated to buy fossil fuel energy even beyond 2045, the year the German government has pledged the country will be climate neutral. Yet, Constantin says the government is even supporting these long-term contracts.

CONSTANTIN: It's an open contradiction to the climate targets we have set. //  So, it’s like a domino game. We are building import terminals here. Our companies are signing contracts. Our banks are financing export terminals, and we end up with a fossil system that's just prolonging its lifetime when it should actually die out. 

CARLYLE: Environmentalists fear what they call a lock-in. Investments in LNG export terminals on the Gulf Coast will lead to more fracking. New gas fields will be opened. And once those investments have been made, companies will want a return on their money. So they’ll have to keep selling that LNG to somebody.

HALLE: Germany says it wants off fossil fuels ASAP, but the country is still on the hook to buy LNG for decades. Which left us wondering, what happens when you lock yourself into buying something you no longer want? Where will all of that gas go, if not to Germany? Bengt Bergt puts it simply.

BENGT: Of course, there will be a redirection to other countries because other countries have other climate targets. 

HALLE: when Germany has enough green energy and no longer wants all this climate-polluting U.S. LNG, well, no problem they can just sell it to other countries that are still willing to burn gas. Countries that are still developing. To the east.

MIKA OHBAYASHI: The industry is using that transitional energy or the bridge as a, just a excuse to expand.

HIROSHI: Extreme LNG promotion people say, this is not a transition or a bridge fuel, this is a destination fuel. (laugh)  

CARLYLE: It's like a game of hot potato, but with carbon-emitting fossil fuels that have implications for the future of the earth.

In our last episode, we find ourselves on the opposite side of the world. In Asia.


CARLYLE: Thanks for listening to part two of “All Gassed Up,” a special series from Sea Change.

This episode was hosted, reported and produced by Halle Parker and me, Carlyle Calhoun. It was edited by Morgan Springer, Rosemary Westwood and Eve Abrams. With additional help from Ryan Vasquez and Eva Tesfaye. The episode was fact-checked by Garrett Hazelwood. Our theme music is by Jon Batiste and our sound designer is Emily Jankowski. A big thank you to Andy (Giorgoo) Gherogiu, Felix Heilmann, Julian Wettengel, Boris Richter, and all of the people who helped us with our reporting in Germany.

Sea Change is a WWNO and WRKF production. We are part of the NPR Podcast Network and distributed by PRX. To see more of our reporting on LNG, visit WWNO.org/podcast/sea-change. And to help others find our podcast, hit subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Sea Change is made possible with major support from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. WWNO’s Coastal Desk is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, the Meraux Foundation, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation. This special series is part of the Pulitzer Center’s nationwide Connected Coastlines reporting initiative. For more information, go to pulitzercenter.org/connected-coastlines.

We’ll be back with the final episode in our series in two weeks.

Carlyle Calhoun is the managing producer of <i>Sea Change.</i> You can reach her at: carlyle@wwno.org
Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.