Why activists are rebelling against LNG terminals

Two planned liquefied gas terminals near Hamburg are intended to help Germany become less dependent on Russian raw materials. Even before construction started, there was a massive protest.

Two liquid gas terminals are to be built in the greater Hamburg area in the next few years. It would be the first ever in Germany. However, resistance to gas as a bridging technology to renewable energies is not only being felt at the planned locations in the north.

Around 30 climate activists protested in front of a hotel in Hamburg-St. Pauli. An event on “LNG & Future Fuels” is taking place here, organized by a maritime specialist medium. The banners of the activists in front of the hotel read, among other things: “Stop the climate crisis: Prevent gas imports” and “Clean Gas? Dirty Lie!”

Natural gas is said to help with the switch to renewable energies

In Germany, natural gas continues to play an important role in the generation of heat and in the chemical industry, in the generation of electricity and in the storage of energy. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) emphasizes that natural gas will continue to make a significant contribution to energy supply in the coming decades. Natural gas power plants are considered flexible and can therefore help to balance out power fluctuations from renewable energy sources.

According to the BMWK, natural gas is more climate-friendly than other fossil fuels because its use is associated with lower CO2 emissions. Just under five percent of the German natural gas supply comes from domestic production, 95 percent from imports (figures from 2018). The most important importing countries are Russia, Norway and the Netherlands.

LNG hope: Less dependence on Russian gas

The dependence on natural gas from Russia in particular has brought LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) into the conversation in recent weeks. “We have to reduce our dependence on Russian energy imports. We need an accelerated energy transition and an accelerated expansion of renewable energies,” said Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck in March during a visit to Schleswig-Holstein. “At the same time, we need gas for the transition, and above all LNG, if we want to free ourselves from dependence on Russia,” Habeck continued.

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A large ship with liquid gas tanks is pulled through a canal: LNG takes up less volume than natural gas and is therefore easier to transport. (Source: YAY Images/imago images)

The largest LNG exporting countries are Qatar, Australia, the USA and Russia. In addition to being used as an energy source, LNG is also intended to be used as a fuel for shipping and heavy goods traffic. It can be shipped around the world in large tankers, taking up less volume than natural gas. Special terminals are required to be able to load, store and convert the LNG back into gas.

After a motion by the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, the LNG infrastructure was also an issue in the Bundestag on Thursday. The aim of the application: to advance the construction of LNG terminals in Germany as quickly as possible. The answer of the governing parties is clear. You can see that most of the points in the application are already being worked on. The factions of the left, the SPD, the Greens and the FDP voted against him, the AfD abstained.

Activists protest on a field near Brunsbüttel: symbolic occupation of the planned construction of the LNG terminal.  (Source: Jannis Große)Activists protest in a field near Brunsbüttel: symbolic occupation of the planned construction site for the LNG terminal. (Source: Jannis Große)

Germany’s first LNG terminal is to be built near Hamburg

Two LNG terminals are to be built in the greater Hamburg area in the next few years – the first in Germany. The two locations in Stade and Brunsbüttel are on the Elbe with access to the North Sea and the port of Hamburg. The planned terminal in Brunsbüttel is located at the entrance to the Kiel Canal in the immediate vicinity of the largest contiguous industrial area in Schleswig-Holstein. The planned terminal in Stade is to have access to two motorways and the largest European marshalling yard in Maschen.

Both locations are still in the approval phase and will only be able to be built in the next few years. The operators expect regular operation from 2026. Floating LNG terminals should therefore bring a short-term solution. The City of Hamburg, in coordination with the Federal Ministry of Economics, is currently examining whether and how such a terminal is possible in the Port of Hamburg.

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A liquid gas appointment in the port of Rotterdam: In Germany there are no so-called LNG terminals.  (Source: imago images/ANP)A liquid gas terminal in the port of Rotterdam: In Germany there are no so-called LNG terminals. (Source: ANP/imago images)

But not everyone is so convinced of natural gas as a bridging technology. The German Environmental Aid and numerous climate activists criticize the expansion of fossil fuels. For several years there have been repeated protest actions. In June 2020, for example, activists occupied the future construction site of the LNG terminal in Brunsbüttel to demonstrate resistance. At the end of March, the members of the Turbo Climate Combat Group (TKKG) presented themselves with banners in Brunsbüttel. On it to read: “LNG = fracking and colonial exploitation”.

“We find it very difficult that the debate about LNG is very local and the influence of our actions in other places is ignored,” explains Luna from TKKG. “The gas from the US is largely fracked gas from Mexico and Texas, where indigenous and low-income people live.” Fracking is considered an environmentally harmful method of extracting oil and natural gas from deep rock layers. Far-reaching bans on this technology have been in force in Germany since 2017.

Climate activists protest near Brunsbüttel: An LNG terminal is to be built here.  (Source: imago images/Eibner)Climate activists protest near Brunsbüttel: An LNG terminal is to be built here. (Source: Eibner/imago images)

The climate activists do not believe in further investments in fossil fuels. The German Environmental Aid describes LNG overall as harmful to the climate, since emissions from extraction, transport, liquefaction, regasification, feeding into the gas grid and consumption must be taken into account. According to the IPCC, the greenhouse effect of methane, the main component of natural gas, is up to 87 times greater than that of CO2 in the first 20 years.

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Activist: LNG does not solve the problem of acute gas shortages

“Even if the LNG projects are implemented in a timely manner, that will not solve any acute gas shortage problems,” says activist Luna. A study by the market research institute ICIS, reported on by the “Handelsblatt”, supports this assessment. According to the results of the study, only 40 percent of European gas requirements can currently be covered by LNG.

From the activists’ point of view, distance rules that prevent the expansion of wind turbines should be dispensed with and gas heating in private households should be converted. In the Bundestag debate on Thursday, Green Party politician Ingrid Nestle also criticized the so-called 10H regulation for the construction of wind turbines. According to the coalition agreement, the traffic light government wants to change these regulations in the coming months. Nevertheless, almost all parliamentary groups are sticking to LNG as a necessary bridging technology.

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