Estonia supporting another fossil ghost

Uku Lilleväli.
Uku Lilleväli. Source: Private collection

We should cease all investments in fossil gas and fossil fuel infrastructure in general. Everything else would constitute knowingly ignoring the effects of the climate crisis, Uku Lilleväli writes.

While Eesti Energia's planned shale oil plant has been considered the last lumbering dinosaur set to add fuel to the climate crisis fire on the Estonian fossil fuels landscape, the state is supporting another and at least equally hazardous plant – a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal in Paldiski.

Fossil gas deepening climate crisis

To understand the nature and controversiality of the planned terminal, we need to know why fossil gas – also called natural gas – is no better than oil shale or other fossil fuels despite its green-sounding name. Fossil gas is often considered to be more environmentally friendly because its end user's emissions have a lower CO2 concentration than other fossil fuels.

However, fossil gas is doing far greater damage in the form of methane leaks or gas that leaks into the atmosphere in the processes of drilling, extraction and transport using pipelines.

Methane is a far more intensive greenhouse gas than CO2, having an impact 84 times greater if spread over a 20-year period. Calculations suggest that if just 3 percent of methane leaks from gas infrastructure over 20 years, its effect will be more detrimental than generating equivalent energy from coal. Compressed natural gas (CNG) used by vehicles has a greater climate footprint than diesel or gasoline if methane leaks are contained to 1 and 1.6 percent respectively.

It is difficult to gauge how much methane leaks from the infrastructure. Gas pipelines often stretch for thousands of kilometers and finding every single leak is expensive. The majority of public data comes from the gas industry the approximations and conclusions of which are inevitably self-benefiting. Independent analyses evaluate the actual volume of leaks at between 3 and 9 percent.

Liquid natural gas (LNG) is one of the more harmful forms of fossil gas. The liquefaction and transport of LNG requires 25 percent more energy than using gas in its initial form.

Controversial and unnecessary LNG terminal

The government is sending controversial signals when it comes to fossil gas. The coalition agreement stresses that no more investment will be made in fossil fuels, while the government is working to make sure Alexela and partners can construct an LNG terminal near Tallinn. And even though this support is non-material, it reflects the state's desire to bolster the competitiveness of fossil fuels undoubtedly working to deepen the climate crisis.

If one of the main arguments of energy investments is the need to promote supply security, which the promoters of the LNG terminal suggest, the Estonian Competition Authority has said that fossil gas supply security is already ensured both now and in the future.

Demand for fossil gas dropped more than twofold in 2007-2019, with the maximum capacity of the transmission network exceeding peak consumption by many times - a sure sign of sufficient supply security.

The competition watchdog notes that supply security would remain intact even in the case of major geopolitical, technological, commercial or natural risks materializing as existing international links are sufficient. Looking at LNG more narrowly, a new terminal is not justified as LNG supply security in the Baltic region is solid.

Supporting fossil infrastructure needs to be avoided to alleviate climate crisis

The International Energy Agency the assessments of which the energy sector largely follows said in May that Estonia and other wealthy countries should stop using fossil gas by 2040 at the latest to be able to reach climate neutrality.

Because gas infrastructure projects in the pipeline, including the LNG terminal, have a useful lifespan that goes beyond not just 2040 but also 2050, Estonia should cease all investments in fossil gas and fossil fuels infrastructure now. Any action to the contrary constitutes knowingly denying and amplifying the effects of the climate crisis.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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