The joyful response from anti-pipeline organizations to the recent news about the scrapping of the Atlantic Coast pipeline and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to permit delay of the Keystone XL pipeline project demonstrates the need for anti-pipeline groups to take a refresher course on energy. For the foreseeable future, fossil fuels will remain by necessity our primary energy source, and pipelines are safest means of transporting them.
The Atlantic Coast pipeline was initially announced in 2014 in response to robust demand for natural gas. This demand was driven by regional retirements of coal-fired electric generation to be replaced by low-cost, low-emitting natural gas.
But due to activist courts, environmental group-driven lawsuits, and excessive, ever changing regulations the projected cost of the project nearly doubled to $8 billion dollars. This unstable business environment led Duke to cancel the pipeline project, slowing the energy transition to cleaner energy sources and driving up costs to Americans.
The fact is that no grid currently is able to run on renewable energy 24/7. Germany, the largest market for solar power in the world, for example, must rely on fossil fuels to provide power to the grid when solar and wind are not available. Coal is used here, but low-emitting natural gas could be used instead.
Natural gas is a product of the hydrocarbon stream that comes from a well. If you produce crude oil, you will likely produce at least some natural gas and it has to go somewhere. Without pipelines in place, producers would be required to flare copious amounts of natural gas into the atmosphere in order to continue crude oil production. Venting (releasing natural gas into the air) is the alternative, but venting releases methane (more harmful than CO2) into the atmosphere.
There are other solutions, but those solutions are not economical at the scale needed to move produced natural gas in the U.S.
According to the EPA, in 2017 approximately 44.4 million tons of natural gas was flared into the atmosphere. Those natural resources produced nothing but emissions. Do we really want to see this practice continue, when all of that gas could be producing energy? The alternative—renewable energy that meets all of our needs—isn’t here, at least not yet.
Pipelines Are Safest Way to Supply Power to Transition to Cleaner Energy
What’s more, those fearful of the effects of climate change should be the most outraged by the opposition to these pipelines. If someday we are able to transition away from fossil fuels, these pipelines can be repurposed to transport other commodities, such as liquefied carbon to either be sequestered (put into the ground) or reused to manufacture other products.
The lesson that anti-pipeline organizations need to learn is that taking a 100% anti-hydrocarbon posture is no better than a 100% hydrocarbon posture. As holds true with our diets, a well-balanced diet will enhance our quality of life. Fossil fuels for the foreseeable future will remain the most dominant energy source in the world. Natural gas is key to the energy transition and pipelines are the most effective and safest means of supplying our cities and towns with the power we need to survive transition to cleaner energy.
The belief that reducing pipeline capacity will result in a decrease in the use of crude oil is a fallacy. Producers will still produce the commodity, they will just be forced to transport through other, less safe and environmentally harmful alternatives such as transporting fuels by truck.
We must continue to seek balance between minimizing our carbon/environmental footprint and leading productive lives. It is time environmental groups and their sympathizers cooperate with energy companies rather than seek to abolish them.