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AP: Expanding Gulf Coast gas exports raise residents’ concerns

A flare burns at Venture Global LNG in Cameron, La., April 21, 2022. The new facility, which exports liquefied natural gas, is one of several like it along the Gulf Coast — and tmore are proposed for Louisiana and Texas. The U.S. has become the world’s largest exporter of LNG, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine heightened demand for the fuel as countries in Europe cut their reliance on Russian energy. But the U.S. expansion of LNG facilities has come with consequences for Gulf Coast residents threatened by extreme weather, and for the planet threatened by greenhouse gases. Natural gas from the Permian Basin in Texas and other areas is sent by pipeline to the export facilities. It is then cooled and liquefied, making it possible to send much greater quantities by ship to Asia, Europe and other places that are hungry for natural gas. (AP Photo / Martha Irvine)

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AP energy reporter Cathy Bussewitz and national multiformat journalist Martha Irvine led an AP team producing a visually rich, deeply reported package examining a vast expansion of natural gas facilities in coastal Southwest Louisiana that is escalating greenhouse gas emissions, raising global temperatures, fueling extreme weather and imperiling communities.

Reporting from coastal Southwest Louisiana, the AP pair captured the lives of families hurt by a series of devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather linked to a build-out of liquefied natural export terminals. But the two went further: They depicted, with narrative storytelling and distinctive video and photos, an urgent concern: Where once it looked as if the nation might soon shift away from fossil fuel industries, a reversal has occurred. The U.S. has become the world’s largest exporter of LNG, with worrisome consequences for Gulf Coast residents and the planet’s climate, thanks to a surge in global demand intensified by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Bussewitz and Irvine gained the trust of several residents in the Lake Charles region. One woman was still living in a FEMA trailer while her home stood unrepaired,more than a year after a hurricane had destroyed it. Another kept a stocked pantry box and water-refill station to help struggling neighbors. The journalists also secured rare access inside an LNG facility. They chased LNG tankers down country roads and tracked them on maritime databases to get photos and video of the ships. Irvine’s striking images and video of LNG facilities flaring as the sun rose along the coast were a story unto themselves. And to highlight opposing viewpoints,the two reporters also interviewed LNG advocates,including a school board member who explained why he believes the export facilities will benefit the region’s communities.

The reporters,who collaborated across the Enterprise and Business News departments,partnered with digital artist Francois Duckett who created graphical maps,digital storytelling producer Peter Hamlin who animated the maps and built the presentation,and photojournalist Maye-E Wong, who edited the photo package.

A few news organizations,mostly local or niche environmental publications,have reported previously on this issue,but none have had the depth and range of AP’s package,with its data,visuals and reporting on human impact. It speaks volumes that even the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star-Telegram,which pride themselves on their own coverage of the fossil fuel industry in the region, ran the AP package. The story was in the day’s Top 10 on apnews.com and was featured on numerous member websites,from the Philadelphia Inquirer to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The story also created considerable buzz in online environmental circles. The story was shared on Twitter by the Sierra Club,the Texas Campaign for the Environment, the Alliance 4 Affordable Energy and Greenpeace among others. The nonprofit Climate Nexus planned to share the story in its Hot News newsletter.

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