By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, June 23 (Reuters) - Environmentalists on Monday protested at the headquarters of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, calling on the agency to stop approving liquefied natural gas export facilities until the climate change impacts of the projects are better understood.
The protesters blasted FERC's refusal to consider the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the production, processing and shipment of natural gas abroad and said FERC must examine the matter before considering any new projects.
About two dozen picketers chanted and carried signs with slogans such as "FERC: we need the truth on climate," kicking off a week of daily demonstrations planned at the agency's offices.
"They are oil and gas industry facilitators, not oil and gas industry regulators," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which organized the protest.
The action comes as typically low-profile FERC moves to center stage in the struggle over the future of the U.S. shale gas bounty.
Last week, Sempra's Cameron LNG facility was the second gas export project to receive approval from FERC to begin construction.
Many environmentalists oppose LNG exports, which they argue will spur more pollution from increased shale gas production and from the energy intensive process needed to cool gas into liquid form for transport.
CCAN and other groups plan to hold a much larger protest in July involving a march to FERC headquarters.
Supporters of U.S. LNG exports say they will boost the U.S. economy and offer countries in Asia and Europe an alternative to burning dirty coal.
While the Environmental Protection Agency has urged FERC to conduct extensive analysis of the climate change impacts of the projects and the impacts of increased natural gas production FERC has said these issues go beyond its scope.
Charged with assessing the safety and environmental effects of the construction and operation of LNG export projects, FERC has repeatedly argued that there is no way to measure the impact that a single export project would have on global climate change.
The protesters said a recent report from the Energy Department on the potential life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of U.S. LNG exports bolstered their case that FERC must do more on the climate issue.
The study, released in May, concluded LNG shipments to Europe and Asia would not increase emissions over a 100-year period when compared to the use of coal for power but found in certain scenarios LNG exports could be almost as bad as coal or worse over a 20-year timeframe. [http://1.usa.gov/1rrmeYj ]
Methane, which is emitted during the production and transmission of natural gas, is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but it does not remain in the atmosphere as long.
Tidwell said FERC and the Energy Department should focus more on the 20-year findings, because the next two decades could be critical to avoiding irreversible climate damage.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, editing by Ros Krasny and Cynthia Osterman)