Shipping Trouble: US Fossil Fuel Exports

Rainforest Action Network


A motorist waiting in long lines for a chance to fill up during the 1970s oil crises might be surprised to learn that the US would one day export half its gasoline to other countries.

In 2014, that’s the situation we find ourselves in. But it’s not just gasoline. Despite rising energy consumption and population, the US is awash in fossil fuels, and energy companies are increasingly looking to sell coal, (refined) oil, and gas to other countries.

But this abundance has exacted a steep price on our health and environment. Extracting and transporting fossil fuels is a notoriously dirty and poorly regulated process. And The Carbon Tracker Initiative found that 80% of the fossil fuels currently in reserve can’t be burned if the planet is to remain below a 2C degree rise in temperature.

That’s why environmental groups are working to stop these exports. From proposed coal terminals in Washington to gas terminals on the Gulf Coast, communities are beginning to hold energy companies accountable for putting people at risk.




While the US has had a ban on crude oil exports since 1975, refined oil products like gasoline and diesel face no restriction, and they’re being shipped overseas in record numbers. In fact, since 2008, the US has been exporting more gasoline than it consumes.

Because companies need to refine oil before it can be shipped overseas, communities in the shadow of a refinery or pipeline face serious threats. There were nearly 8,000 oil and gas “spills, blowouts, leaks and other mishaps in 2013” and oil refinery explosions in places like Richmond, CA and Detroit have forced the evacuation of nearby residents.

Even the day-to-day operation of such facilities produces dangerous emissions. Thanks to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice and other environmental groups, the EPA was forced to develop new rules that would cut pollution from the country’s 150 oil refineries starting in 2015.



The United Bulk coal export terminal in Davant, LA has been sending millions of tons of US coal overseas for decades. In the process, they’ve been polluting the Mississippi River with heavy metals like lead and arsenic, putting people and wildlife at risk. In early 2014, The Sierra Club joined with other environmental groups to sue United Bulk for violating the Clean Water Act.

Coal companies have a bad safety record in the US, but that’s not stopping them from pressuring lawmakers around the country to let them build more export terminals.

The highest-profile battles over coal exports are happening in the Pacific Northwest, where players like Peabody Coal and Goldman Sachs are pushing the governors and people of Oregon and Washington to give them a door to Asia. Fierce opposition combined with volatile demand for coal overseas has shelved a handful of projects, but the pressure remains. In 2012, the US exported over 125 million tons of coal.

Adding insult to injury, much of the coal destined for overseas markets is mined on public lands. In 2013, Reuters found that coal companies were failing to pay the required royalties to American taxpayers to the tune of $30 billion, prompting Congress to ask the Interior Department to take action.



In Maryland, environmental advocates are fighting what they’re referring to as “The Keystone Fight of the East”. Dominion Resources is planning to spend nearly $4 billion to expand its Cove Point Terminal in order to export liquid natural gas (LNG) to Asia.

The Cove Point project is just one of many new LNG terminals planned around the country, most of them in Gulf Coast states. They’re being proposed with the support of the Obama Administration and Department of Energy, who are working to streamline the application process.

Natural gas is touted by proponents as a cleaner fuel, but is it? Besides the many community concerns about fracking, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea found that methane leaks from gas wells were so high as to negate their environmental benefit over coal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. So far, the industry hasn’t cleaned up its act.

Energy companies are putting our health at risk to extract and transport oil, gas and coal while reaping the benefits of selling their products abroad. Clean technology is ready to go. Let’s do what’s right for America and the planet and leave oil, gas and coal in the ground where they belong.


More Information:

Stop LNG Exports, Sierra Club

Fight Over Gas Fracking Moves to the Coasts, Earth Island Journal

The Case Against US Crude Oil Exports, Oil Change International


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