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The U.S. has lots of natural gas, but getting more of it to Europe will take time and investment

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A liquefied natural gas plant in Louisiana.

An LNG processing plant in Louisiana, one of six in the U.S. Officials hope U.S. exports will help Europe reduce imports from Russia. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP Getty Images

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At a meeting of Western allies in Brussels on Friday, President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a framework for weaning Europe off Russian natural gas — which accounts for 40% of the continent’s supply.

On one side of the equation, the framework calls for cutting demand for natural gas in Europe through strategies like greater use of renewable energy, more efficient heat pumps and smart thermostats. 

On the other side of the equation, the U.S. pledged to boost Europe’s supply by increasing exports of liquefied natural gas. 

The U.S. is the biggest producer of natural gas in the world, but beefing up LNG exports isn’t easy.

If we had a pipeline stretching from the U.S. Gulf Coast to Europe, this wouldn’t be a problem, but we don’t. Instead, we have to ship natural gas on tankers, which adds complications.

“You have to turn gas into liquid, and turn liquid back into gas,” said Kevin Book, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners.

Turning gas into a liquid requires big liquefaction facilities, “and the facilities that liquefy natural gas take sometimes four to five years to build out. And single- to double-digit billions of dollars of investment,” Book said.

The U.S. has six liquefaction facilities right now, according to Alex Munton, an LNG analyst at Wood Mackenzie. More are being built, but those six are maxed out.

“So there’s very little scope for increasing production beyond where it’s at right now,” Munton said.

A lot of the LNG they’re producing is headed to Asia. Munson said Asian countries could let Europe have the gas instead.

“But, you know, they will need an alternative to ensure they have the energy supplies they need in their home markets,” he said.

Natural gas prices in Europe have been rising. According to Francis O’Sullivan, managing director of S2G Ventures, it’s pretty likely that prices will stay high. “The idea of Russian gas now not being available going forward is only going to reinforce that prospect,” he said.

In the long run, that will be a big incentive to redirect LNG exports to Europe and build more liquefaction capacity in the U.S., according to O’Sullivan.

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