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Sea Change

All Gassed Up, Part 3: The Sugar Daddy of LNG

An anti-LNG protest in Tokyo.
Halle Parker
An anti-LNG protest in Tokyo.

One country has been on the LNG train the longest… and doesn’t plan on getting off. But if the global gas industry continues to expand, what does that mean for the rest of us?

Japan was the world’s largest importer of LNG for half a century. In the final episode of “All Gassed Up,” we travel to Asia to learn how the global gas industry is expanding — how the need for LNG continues to be sold.

Right now, LNG is in its golden age – times are good, profits are high. And Japan’s big bet is that these good times will keep rolling. That more and more of the world will get hooked on LNG. And this whole global gas expansion hinges on the Gulf Coast.

Come with us to unravel this huge, risky gamble against climate action, and learn that, for many in the gas industry, natural gas is not a “bridge fuel.” It’s a destination. So what happens to the rest of us if this so-called bridge never ends?

“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.

For more information, here’s Oil Change International’s report on Japanese investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as a Friends of Earth Japan report.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis released a report about Japanese financing and strategy for offloading gas in emerging Asian countries.

You can find the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s international strategy published here.

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.

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!




HALLE: I’m in an elevator, shooting up 9 floors in a tall, high-rise in Tokyo.

<<elevator talking, doors open, chatter>>

HALLE: When the doors open, several well-dressed, smiling Japanese men welcome me. We all exchange bows and greetings.

MAN: Welcome to Japan. 

HALLE: I’m in the headquarters of the Japan Gas Association - it represents the country’s biggest players in the gas industry.

YOHEI: It's good to see you. And, I hope you are not suffering from jet lag because you came from Germany, right?

HALLE: Just a tiny bit. 

Even with my jetlag, within the first five minutes, it became clear the people I’m talking with have huge plans for the future of gas. And I got this from watching a YouTube video.

YOHEI: To begin with let us show you a quick overview of JGA and our plan for carbon neutrality toward 2050. 

HALLE: This is exciting, I didn't expect a movie today.

<<video music>>

VIDEO: To realize a carbon neutral society by 2050… 

HALLE: Japan pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 just a few years ago. The video goes on to talk about how gas utility companies are getting involved.

VIDEO: The key to realizing a net zero society is the reduction of these carbon emissions.

HALLE: So far, so good. I’m into this boppy video. It recognizes the importance of renewable energy and other alternative fuels. But then…

VIDEO: We are striving to meet your expectations of a sustainable future with gas.

HALLE: Wait, what? A sustainable future with gas. When the video ends, one of the staffers sitting across the room tells me their slogan.

YOHEI: go gas stainable. It means sustainable society with gas. So, gas, sustainable. So, we named this slogan, like, go gas stainable.

HALLE: Go gas-stainable. So THIS is how the idea of LNG continues to be sold: as sustainable. In Germany, it was clear that the years of using gas were numbered. But in Japan, the industry has a tight grip and a clever marketing strategy that we heard about back in episode 1: this hype that we can fix the climate AND keep burning gas. And the global gas industry is selling this vision to anyone that will listen.


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.

CARLYLE: Last time,

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

CONSTANTIN:  This is about companies making big money. They want to make cash.

REBEKAH: You are turning us into a fossil fuel extraction colony.

CARLYLE: We learned how Germany – one of Europe’s greenest countries – is now bankrolling the massive expansion of LNG on the Gulf Coast. And they’re doing this even though they want to stop using gas in Germany as soon as possible.

HALLE: But Europe is really a newcomer to the world of LNG when you compare it to Asia.

CARLYLE: Especially Japan. The country that has been on this LNG train the longest. It’s been the world’s largest importer of LNG for half a century. And, like you heard from the Japan Gas Association, Japan wants to keep using gas.

Which got us wondering … where does this LNG train stop?


HALLE: One of the world’s oldest and largest gas import terminals is near Tokyo.

HALLE: Is it Sodegaura?

MAKIKO: Sodegaura. 

HALLE: I’m with another local journalist, Makiko Segawa. She’s short and bubbly with curly dark hair.

MAKIKO: (laughter) Kawaii <<duck under>>

She’s my guide to Japan’s busy capital. << ambi under>> We’re looking across Tokyo Bay at the plant.

HALLE: A lot of industrial facilities, giant industrial facilities. there you can just see a ton of storage tanks along the coastline, smokestacks.

CARLYLE: The plant Halle’s looking at can bring in a huge amount of gas per year. Nearly half of the country’s entire gas imports for 2022. They’ve invested billions upon billions of dollars to build this infrastructure.

Japan and LNG go wayyy back. We’re talking decades, to the 1970s. When this plant was built.

ARCHIVAL: with the doubling of the oil price there will be more inflation more unemployment and an abrupt end to the japanese boom

CARLYLE: In 1973, the world was plagued by a global oil crisis. And Japan began the search for an alternative.

HIROSHI: Japan was considered to be too reliant on Middle East oil.

CARLYLE: Hiroshi Hashimoto knows all about Japan's historic reliance on Middle Eastern oil. He works for the Institute of Energy Economics Japan. Hiroshi says the global crisis was a wake up call. Switching from oil to natural gas seemed promising, but the country didn’t really have any gas of its own. So Japan started looking for gas wherever it could find it. Mostly from …

HIROSHI: Southeast Asia, Middle East, Australia.

HALLE: This is important. Back then, it wasn’t like countries were lining up out the door begging for LNG. Japan was the first big, reliable buyer.

CARLYLE: You could call Japan the OG sugar daddy of LNG. Its money and commitment were fundamental to creating this global industry. Including the massive expansion of LNG on the Gulf Coast.

HIROSHI: Japanese government tried hard to persuade then President Obama to facilitate LNG export from the United States.

CARLYLE: And Japan succeeded. Within 40 years, Japan’s LNG love affair has turned the country into one of the world’s largest LNG users. And it wasn’t just the 70s oil shocks that got them there.

KONNO: <<geiger counter beeping>> Beep, beep, beep.

HALLE: That beeping you hear is coming from a Geiger counter. A device that measures radiation. <<beeping ambi pops up again>> The small, round device is sitting in a cup holder as I ride through Fukushima. I’m headed toward the site of a huge nuclear plant disaster.

ABC: A day of historic devastation.

CARLYLE: On March 11, 2011, the coast of Japan was struck by one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded. <<ARCHIVAL TSUNAMI FOOTAGE/AMBI COMES IN AND DUCKS UNDER THIS>> Less than an hour later, a tsunami hit. A series of waves engulfed the coastline, towns were wiped out. Nearly 20,000 people died. And it led to a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.

CHANNEL 4 NEWS: Officials reported that radiation levels were 10 million times higher than normal. 

JIM WALSH CNN: It qualifies as the second worst nuclear incident in the history of the nuclear age. 

CARLYLE: The radiation leaked for months, poisoning the air, land and sea. Everything.

HALLE: <<driving ambi>> I’m back in the car, and sitting in the backseat is Sumio Konno. He leads tours through the area. Before the disaster, he worked for the nuclear plant. He and his son had to evacuate after the meltdown.

HALLE: Your house was over there. 

KONNO: Mine, yes.

HALLE: Sumio doesn’t speak a lot of English, and I don’t speak Japanese. So a local reporter – Hiroko Aihara – joined us to translate. We’re in the mountains. We pass by a lot of driveways, all blocked by metal barricades.

HALLE: So people, there are houses back there. 

HIROKO: Yes. // but it's prohibited to came into the mountain // because the radiation level is high, quite high, kind of danger zone. 

HIROKO: No one could live here. 

HALLE: You can only be here for like a short period of time. 

HIROKO: Yes, just pass by. 

HALLE: We stop in front of Sumio’s old driveway, and get out of the car. His home was bulldozed years ago and all that’s left is an empty lot.

HALLE: How does it feel when you come here?

SUMIO in Japanese - Hiroko: Disappointed… sad. 

HALLE: He has one of those metal barricades to keep people out. But that’s not the only reason we stay near the road.

HALLE: It's not safe to go up there without a mask or a suit?

<<Some of Hiroko talking to Sumio in Japanese>>  

HIROKO: No… Radiation go through the body. 

HALLE: How high is the radiation up there 

KONNO: Two. 

HALLE: Two microSieverts. Four times the radiation level of where we’re standing. Which is already too high to be considered safe without protective gear. Enough to increase cancer risk. And it’s climbing higher the longer we stick around.

HALLE: <<beeping>> Oh wow, so it says 1.21 right now.

HIROKO:  It's time to go. 

HALLE: It's time to go.  

KONNO: 1.2

HALLE: We jump in the car quickly, and as we drive away, we pass workers covered head to toe in white protective suits, excavating contaminated dirt. It’s clear cleanup is far from over. Before the disaster, Sumio says most people weren’t aware of the risks – or even where their energy came from.

KONNO in Japanese - HIROKO: <<japanese from KONNO>> Nuclear power was safe they thought. 

HALLE: After the disaster, most of Japan turned against nuclear power, including Sumio. When I asked him what he thought was most important to understand about the future of Japan’s energy, he summed it up.

KONNO: No nuclear. 

CARLYLE: No nuclear. This shared sentiment forced the government to temporarily shut down almost all its nuclear plants in 2012. Leaving the country without nuclear power for the first time in 40 years. The government had to pivot. And what did Japan turn to?

HALLE: More LNG. — Sound familiar? LNG use exploded, again, because of a huge, unexpected disaster. … You start to see a pattern. The oil shocks of the 70s, Fukushima, the Ukraine War. In times of energy upheaval, the LNG industry gets a boost.

CARLYLE: This is when Japan and the U.S. really became LNG allies – after Fukushima.

DAN BLADE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Cameron LNG liquefaction project dedication ceremony. <<duck under>>

CARLYLE: When Louisiana’s second LNG export plant opened in 2019, representatives of Japan were there. The plant was largely financed by Japanese companies.

HALLE: In fact, so was much of the entire first wave of LNG in the U.S.

SENATOR DAN BLADE MORRIS: We know that the molecules of natural gas That are produced here in the United States will be delivered to homes, businesses, and generations, for years to come throughout the country of Japan.

SHINSUKE SUGIYAMA: This is only the beginning. Everywhere I go, I see growing economic relations between the U. S. and Japan

CARLYLE: Despite the excitement that Louisiana Senator Dan Morris and Japanese Ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama displayed in Cameron Parish 6 years ago, Japan’s LNG consumption has actually gone DOWN. Some nuclear plants came back online, and the country still relies heavily on coal and oil.

But even though demand is down, Japan’s major utility companies keep investing in LNG infrastructure around the world.

HALLE: And not just a little money here, a little money there. We’re talking nearly 40 billion dollars - since 2012. 40 billion! on LNG. That’s according to an analysis by Oil Change International. If you thought German banks paid a pretty penny, Japan’s utilities blow them out of the water.

CARLYLE: At this point, we were confused. Declining LNG use. Increasing investment. Why? We turned to Sam Reynolds to help us make sense of it. He researches the economic, financial and climate risks of LNG across Asia. He’s part of a nonprofit thinktank called the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Sam says the first thing you gotta know is WHO is behind this continued investment.

SAM: this is driven by companies themselves, but it's also being driven by government policy.

HALLE: Here’s how the Japanese government has gotten behind LNG. Sam says, in 2020, it came up with a huge international LNG strategy. In this new strategy, it literally directs Japanese companies to trade TONSSSS of gas – not only buying it but selling it too.

CARLYLE: Okay, wait. Selling it? This was new for us.

SAM: A lot of their, buyer companies find themselves with more commitments in contracts to buy LNG Then they're actually going to need. 

CARLYLE: So, Japan plans to resell that LNG to another country.

HALLE: I think I just got deja vu. So, basically, Japan has already gone through what Germany expects to go through in about a decade. This cycle where companies overinvest in LNG infrastructure during a crisis. Then they have too MUCH LNG –. So they go looking for somewhere to offload that extra gas. But unlike Germany, Japan doesn’t have a problem with this, they want to be a middleman long into the future.

SAM: What we're seeing is these Japanese companies take positions on the entire LNG supply chain in order to trade and in their view profit

CARLYLE: So WHERE are they gonna offload all this gas?

HALLE: So they said there's a curry shop… 

HALLE: I’m standing on the sidewalk off one of Tokyo’s busy streets. This place is the opposite of that slick high-rise building where I met the gas association. In front of me is a pretty nondescript storefront. I finally find my way through this maze of a building to the office I’m looking for… inside is one of the environmental groups opposing Japan’s massive LNG business. THEY know the answer: they know where Japan is selling its excess LNG.

We’re running a few minutes late, and Makiko, my Tokyo guide, apologizes profusely. As one does in japan.

MAKIKO: Sumi masen! I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. 

HALLE: Sitting at a brown conference table, surrounded by boxes of flyers and research, are two women. Yasuko Suzuki and Satoko Endo.

HALLE: They work for separate environmental organizations that are hyper-focused on getting Japan and all of southeast Asia off fossil fuels. They know that in 2022, Japanese companies traded about a QUARTER of all the LNG in the world. Yep, a quarter. Yasuko says that Japan is holding tight to its sugar daddy status.

YASUKO: they want to be like a station to Asia, getting the gas from U. S., spreading to the Asian countries. 

CARLYLE: Satoko says, both the gas industry and Japan’s government are targeting smaller, poorer southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Vietnam.

HALLE: Let’s take Vietnam for example. Yasuko says Japanese companies work with local cities in Vietnam. They help them replace other energy – like coal – with LNG. They do that by bankrolling the development of expensive LNG import terminals. Not only that, also power plants to burn the LNG — a whole gas system. The goal is to get countries like Vietnam to start using LNG. Especially LNG from the Gulf Coast.

YASUKO: The government try to, not push, but encourage to use the fossil fuel. 

CARLYLE: And, at least in Vietnam, the gas industry is gaining ground. Last year, Vietnam got its first-ever LNG import plant up and running – with the help of the Japanese gas giant, Tokyo Gas. And Tokyo Gas wants to add another in Vietnam by the end of the decade.

HALLE: Other Japanese gas companies are doing the same thing across Asia like in the Philippines and India.

CARLYLE: The Japanese government and companies are doing more than helping build LNG plants and all this gas infrastructure in other countries. They’re also selling them that Big IDEA – the idea that natural gas is an important part of a cleaner future.

HALLE: Which brings us back to the slick skyscraper with the Japan Gas Association and their clever marketing.

YOHEI: go gas stainable.

HALLE: The whole go gas-stainable campaign. They’re using this same line to promote LNG outside Japan – to those other Asian countries currently using coal.

Yohei Kagawa is a spokesman for the Japan Gas Association.

YOHEI: From coal to natural gas, that's a realistic solution.

CARLYLE: And they’re not just relying on LNG in its current form. They’ve got this plan they say will make LNG even CLEANER. This new tech they’re working on that uses carbon dioxide sucked out of the air, combines that carbon with hydrogen, and then TRANSFORMS IT INTO LNG. LNG that doesn’t require drilling into the ground. It’s an interesting idea. But this kind of LNG doesn’t exist yet, and it’s a long way off.

Japan’s LNG pitch relies on two things. First: They gotta convince other countries of how clean and reliable gas can be in the future. Second: Japanese companies have to keep subsidizing LNG infrastructure.

HALLE: Takahiro Noguchi is also with the gas industry. He’s confident this big plan will work. He, like a lot of gas proponents, lumps gas in with renewables. By calling gas clean energy.

NOGUCHI (in Japanese): VO - Even in those countries, there is a tendency to use clean energy, so in terms of natural gas, the demand in Southeast Asia and Asia will explode and increase.

HALLE: This is the gas industry’s hope. That the hype of natural gas as clean, will help Asian leaders – leaders that are hungry for alternatives to coal – choose LNG as the way forward. And IF he’s right, and Japan’s bet pays off and gas demand DOES explode across Asia, they’d get to be the BROKER, buying U.S. LNG and reselling for profit.

HALLE: there's something you need to know about this tight LNG relationship between Japan and the US. And really why a lot of countries want to buy American gas. U.S. LNG companies do contracts differently. Usually, Japan couldn’t just buy LNG to resell to other countries. But the U.S. companies let buyers do anything they want with that LNG. This is actually what enables a game of hot potato.

And it keeps getting passed. From the U.S. to Germany, to Japan, to the rest of Southeast Asia. It’s a hot potato with a strong marketing campaign and HUGE industry buy-in. And, to be clear, Japan didn’t invent this campaign, this has been part of a long game.

T. BOONE PICKENS: So what you have is natural gas is the bridge fuel. 

HALLE: That’s T. Boone Pickens, an American fossil fuel billionaire. 12 years ago, T. Boone did a Ted Talk about this “natural gas bridge” we’ve been talking about. And where did T. Boone say this bridge would take us? He didn’t care.

PICKENS: I don’t have to worry about the bridge to where at my age. That’s your concern. But when you look at the natural gas we have, it could very well be the bridge to natural gas.

HALLE: Even then, the gas industry wasn't serious about getting off the bridge. So what happens if the bridge never ends? That’s coming up next.


CARLYLE: We’ve been hearing a lot about this playbook Japan and the global gas industry are using to sell LNG to the world. Right now, LNG is in its golden age – times are good, profits are high. And Japan’s big bet is that these good times will keep rolling. That more and more of the world will get hooked on LNG. Which would be good for the Japanese government and fossil fuel companies’ bank accounts. But what happens to the rest of us if this international LNG strategy works?

HALLE: Researchers are starting to scrutinize the gas industry’s favorite line: that LNG is cleaner than coal. Debbie Gordon is a researcher with the Rocky Mountain Institute. She says, all that leaking methane – the climate superpolluter - kills that “clean” brand.

DEBBIE: Gas has to leak below 0.2 percent in order to be less damaging to the climate than coal. // The international community is agreeing on it, EPA is talking about it // industries agreeing on it. 

HALLE: Only 0.2 percent of methane can leak, she says. But recent satellite data shows a huge range of leakage. From .6% up to 66%. Of leaking methane. And that’s just in the U.S. Fix those leaks and maybe LNG could be clean… until you add in all the energy it takes to make and then ship LNG around the world. One study found LNG could be over two times more polluting than coal.

HALLE: Globally, we are at a critical juncture. A world designed by the gas industry could spell disaster for the planet. Climate researchers we spoke to say if LNG — really any fossil fuel — continues to expand, it’s impossible we can meet our climate goals. But what does that really mean?

CARLYLE: Well, we’re already experiencing the hottest years ever recorded. Oceans are warming, coral reefs are collapsing. Climate disasters are growing more catastrophic every year — more and more people are going hungry. That’s according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization. And all of this will only get worse if we continue burning fossil fuels. All these LNG plants would heat a warming planet already close to boiling over.

DEBORAH: There's the three sided triangle that we've been trying to set up for a long time where that weighs the economics. And the geopolitics, which have always been in play for energy, and then add a third point to that stool of the climate, because whatever we decide to do will weigh into both the economics and the geopolitics, but they are going to have profound implications for the climate. 

CARLYLE: That’s why Japan’s role in this whole LNG story is so critical. They’re SUBSIDIZING expensive LNG infrastructure in poorer countries that otherwise might not have the resources to pay for it. This could perpetuate fossil fuel use. But it doesn’t have to. We’ll come back to that.

CARLYLE: All this LNG activity in Japan … the buying … the marketing …. the selling … the ENORMOUS investments … the general public isn’t really taking note.

HALLE: My Tokyo guide, Makiko Segawa has been a reporter in Japan for decades. And, she says, the majority of people in Japan believe climate change is a threat. But doing something about it? That’s a different story.

<<ambi station/birds>>

HALLE: While I was in Tokyo, Makiko goes with me to a protest. It’s outside a gathering of big insurance execs. But when we arrive, it’s… quiet.

MAKIKO: You don't hear any sound of protest, though, right?

HALLE: She says most Japanese don’t really think about protesting. It doesn’t fit with a culture of structure, rules and politeness. Maybe that’s partially why the gas industry has thrived here.

We see a small group.

CHATTER: Oh, sorry!  We're still waiting for the other people.

HALLE: What's usually a good size for a protest for you guys, or for a demonstration?  

CHATTER: Usually,  if it's big, 20, 30. Tokyo area, a little bit more people coming. <<start to duck under>> This is kind of it

HALLE: 20 to 30… if it’s big. In contrast, on the Gulf Coast, protests are usually bigger than this. Sometimes hundreds of people will show up. This small contingent of committed climate activists in Japan want what most climate activists want — for their country to stop spreading fossil fuels and look to renewable energy instead.

CARLYLE: The big questions around renewable energy often have to do with boring things like How expensive will it be? How quickly can it happen? After the Ukraine War, Germany couldn’t immediately replace Russian gas with renewables. Same in Japan. But, According to the Renewable Energy Institute in Tokyo, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese government could have embraced green energy. Instead, they went on an LNG shopping spree all over the world. And today, just 10% of the country’s energy is renewable.

Transitional ambi - driving? 

HALLE: But one part of the country decided to do things differently.

I’m back in the Fukushima region, and driving around, you see the silhouettes of wind turbines on top of mountains. Solar panels cover land abandoned after the nuclear disaster. A futuristic hydrogen plant was even built where a new nuclear plant was once proposed. After the disaster, the Fukushima region declared an ambitious goal of going 100% renewable by 2040. They’re halfway there.

HALLE: I arrive at a tiny resort mountain town called Tsuchiyu Onsen. This little town was the first in Fukushima to take green energy seriously. Because Tsuchiyu Onsen has access to a type of energy that’s special to Japan.

<<Water ambi>> HALLE: Okay, so I stumbled upon a public footbath. Um, there's no one here right now, it's in the evening. 

CARLYLE: Onsen are Japanese hot springs. All across the town are public foot baths and bigger bathhouses warmed by the heat of the earth.

HALLE: I strip off my socks and shoes to try this one out.

HALLE: Okay, I'm putting my foot in. … Oh! You know, it's not too hot. It 's very soothing.  Mmm, it feels very nice. 

HALLE: But not only are the onsens lovely for skin, they also mean geothermal energy. One type of renewable energy that’s more abundant in Japan than most of the world. Geothermal plants harness the power of all that heat bubbling beneath the earth’s crust and turn it into electricity.

<<geothermal plant steam released sound>> The plant here in this one town makes enough electricity for 700 households. Today, there are 20 geothermal plants in Japan. But there could be way more.


CARLYLE: This is a common story in Japan – and around the world really. we’re not tapping all our renewable energy. Japanese energy experts say the country has huge solar and offshore wind potential. They argue, with enough grid and infrastructure investment, Japan could fully run on green energy. Could shift from importing energy, to producing it at home.

HALLE: Instead, Japan’s still banking on LNG. And betting against the climate. But scary climate stuff aside, there’s another steep cost. The literal pricetag of this expensive LNG infrastructure.

With all of these countries now buying LNG, you might think LNG was somehow cheaper than renewables. It’s not.

SAM:  LNG simply is too expensive to replace coal // and renewables are a much cheaper option. 

Sam Reynolds, our energy analyst, says, at this point, solar and wind are the cheapest energy options out there. Gas specifically costs two times as much the solar and wind. And LNG is the costliest form of gas. And even with the meddling of gas industry, emerging countries like Vietnam have already begun to adopt green energy. Sam says they don’t need gas as a bridge to renewables.

SAM: Governments are starting to realize that regardless of what they think about LNG as a bridge fuel, it's not an affordable bridge fuel.

CARLYLE: But they still have a choice. Renewables or gas. And the direction these rapidly growing Asian countries go is one of the biggest determinants of our future climate.

HALLE: So how does this LNG cycle end? <<music in the clear for a beat>>

First, it might stop itself.

CARLYLE: The demand for natural gas is already declining in many parts of the world. Many countries are moving quickly towards renewable energy. And, if this continues globally as expected, it will have consequences for LNG on the Gulf Coast. This boom will go bust.

HALLE: And on the Gulf Coast, we have already seen this happen. The oil industry has abandoned 14,000 oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of those wells are leaking oil and methane, and it’s on taxpayers to foot the bill for the cleanup. Companies simply walked away from this infrastructure. And the same could happen with these massive LNG facilities. The Japanese government, U. S. LNG companies, and the global gas industry are making a huge, risky gamble with all these investments.

HALLE: So that’s one way this cycle ends: the economics collapse. But there are other ways too.

CARLYLE: One way is for governments to actually take climate change into consideration when they make big energy decisions.

Like the move you heard about at the very beginning of this series.

NEWS ARCHIVAL: The Biden administration paused approvals for massive fossil fuel projects, specifically liquified natural gas. 

HALLE: The extremely controversial pause on building new LNG export terminals on the Gulf Coast. Basically, The Biden administration said hold your horses LNG, we need to figure out the full impacts from LNG on the climate before we approve any more export terminals.

The pause does nothing –by the way – to affect all of the terminals already operating or approved. Terminals that will increase U.S. LNG exports by about 80% in the next four years. But the pause is a HUGE step. Perhaps, the biggest a US administration has ever taken to curb the expansion of fossil fuels.

CARLYLE: But the pause might not become a stop. The feds have already been sued over it – by Louisiana and 15 other states. And U.S. industry leaders are confident the pause will end. So confident that they’re continuing to invest billions of dollars in proposed LNG infrastructure on the Gulf Coast.

CARLYLE: But in this story, it’s not just big industry versus government.

HALLE: There’s also all the regular people calling for change. Some of them… actually made the pause happen. Years of work by local activists grabbed the attention of people like Jane Fonda.

JANE: You are warriors. Stay strong. See you in Washington, D. C.

HALLE: And all this growing pressure pushed Biden to make the historic decision to pause LNG expansion. It was because of people. Raising their voices.

LNG PROTEST: The waters are rising, and so are we! 

New Orleans Protest: Hear us loud and clear. We don't want any more LNG export facilities.

Roishetta: What is happening along the Gulf Coast impacts every individual in this world. We're not just powering up in the Gulf. We are bringing people together.

CARLYLE: People from around the world standing up and standing together. People you’ve met like Steffi Eilers, Yasuko Suzuki…and John Allaire.


CARLYLE: Think of the entire journey of this globe-trotting fuel. It started deep in the ground in the U.S. We went from fracking natural gas to supercooling it on the Gulf Coast and then sending it out on ships around the world. Some ships went to Germany, but Germany might not want fossil fuels in five to 10 years. So they sell it to Asian countries. Maybe Japan. But now Japan has an oversupply. So they’ve pushed much of the rest of Asia to build LNG infrastructure so they can sell the LNG on too.

HALLE: And this whole global gas expansion hinges on what’s happening in John Allaire’s backyard.


CARLYLE: I’m back with John in Cameron Parish, Louisiana.

JOHN: We're on the beach front here. We're along the Gulf of Mexico here.

CARLYLE: John owns more than a half of a mile of Gulf Front property. And he says it’s changed a lot since he bought the property 25 years ago.

JOHN: See where that wave is right there just broke out in front of us. That's where the trees used to be. 

CARLYLE: Where we're looking out into the Gulf of Mexico. That was land?

JOHN: Yes. Well, you could walk from right here. Take 70 steps out that way. When I first bought the property, that was land.  

CARLYLE: John has lost more than 17 acres in 25 years, now underwater. It’s wild to imagine. I could now bodysurf where there were once trees.

We are losing land in Louisiana at one of the fastest rates on earth. And sea level rise is happening much faster than predicted. A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study shows almost 2 feet of additional rise will likely happen here by 2050–that’s about double the national average.

And then there are the hurricanes. Sometimes pushing 17 foot high walls of water ashore.

Flooding land. Destroying homes. Destroying industry.

HALLE: Venture Global’s LNG plant in Cameron Parish is above sea level, but barely– only by around 5 feet. They’ve built storm walls at the export terminals. It’s required. But reports show the strongest hurricanes, similar to what we’ve had here in recent years, could still flood these LNG plants. And that could cause explosions. highly toxic chemicals could flood out of the facilities into fragile wetlands, into communities, and people’s homes.

CARLYLE: But looking out with John into the breaking waves of the Gulf,. Where trees grew not too long ago. I wonder if at the end of the day, what determines the future of these LNG plants isn’t whether they make economic sense but the reality of stronger storms and rising seas..

HALLE: And John worries about that too.

JOHN: Well, they'll be just big concrete monuments and these guys will go well  You know, we're not making any money so we're gonna have to shut it down.

CARLYLE: These plants could become stranded. Islands of abandoned industry.

HALLE: Some environmentalists might call that poetic justice. That by virtue of being part of the fossil fuel industry –the main driver of climate change and rising seas – this is reaping what you sow.

CARLYLE: But climate change doesn't only destroy what created it. It doesn’t pick and choose. it could take out everything.

HALLE: Thanks for listening to the final installment of “All Gassed Up,” a special series from Sea Change.

This episode was hosted, reported and produced by Carlyle Calhoun and me, Halle Parker. It was edited by Morgan Springer and Eve Abrams. With additional help from Ryan Vasquez, Rosemary Westwood 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 the people who helped make this reporting possible, like Hiroki Osada, James Hiatt, Travis Dardar, Mika Ohbayashi, Hiroko Aihara, Makiko Segawa. This whole series involved many hands and conversations not included.

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.

Thank you so much for listening to All Gassed Up! Sea Change will be back in another two weeks. Thanks for being here.

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.