Natural Gas Pipelines – Mountains of Rhetoric and Facts

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Traveling around this Southeast this summer, I saw quite a few yard signs registering opinions about drilling and pipelines. Last month, PACE filed comments supporting an expanded federal offshore oil and natural gas leasing program.

Onshore energy projects, such as the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and Mountain Valley (MVP) pipelines also bring value to consumers. Both have been extensively studied and are now working through exhaustive reviews and approvals. Unsurprisingly, the projects are also targets for well-funded opposition campaigns from environmental groups.

The ACP would run about 600 miles starting in West Virginia, extending into Virginia and down to North Carolina. Four shareholder-owned utilities are project partners: Dominion Resources, Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Southern Company Gas. The MVP would extend just over 300 miles from West Virginia to southern Virginia. Partner companies include NextEra US Gas Assets, and Con Edison Transmission.

Both projects have undergone extensive federal and state environmental reviews and multiple rounds of public comments. Each received a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The ACP now awaits approval from North Carolina, where a decision has been delayed until December and may have to revisit water quality permits in West Virginia. Earlier this month, West Virginia also backtracked on its water quality approvals for the MVP. 

These delays are lamentable, but not surprising, as environmental groups have mounted vociferous protests all along the way. Well-funded campaigns have raised a host of technical and rhetorical arguments. Some say there’s not enough demand for the natural gas they’ll deliver. Others assert that the privately-owned companies are greedily grabbing private property. Still others label natural gas as a “dirty fuel” and ding the pipelines for diverting our society from the pursuit of renewable energy. 

The faces, voices and high-production-value videos of lush rural mountain scenes make for compelling story-telling. Undoubtedly, many landowners and community members have questions and concerns, as evidenced by the thousands of public comments submitted to state and federal officials. It’s likely that some had tough conversations with local project representatives about access to lands and construction timelines.

While I can’t link to a video here, if I could, it would deliver up some facts and voices that tell a different tale. First and foremost – natural gas will be part of our domestic energy mix for decades to come. It’s misleading to the citizens of these states to suggest otherwise. Both projects are a response to market signals, received over the past decade-plus, and boosted by some of the very same environmental groups now lodging complaints, to shift away from coal to natural gas.

Furthermore, if you like clean renewable power, then you by default like natural gas. Natural gas backs up renewables and provides power when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun drifts behind a cloud, or sinks over a beautiful mountain top. Electric vehicles carrying visitors to the Appalachian Trail, or the region’s national forests, will be charged with electrons generated by natural gas. So, even when overall load growth is low or flat, the demand for natural gas will increase.

As to “land grabs,” how did light and power come to isolated Appalachia and rural mid-Atlantic counties decades ago? Through the responsible exercise of eminent domain and often, the engaged participation of citizens who wanted better prospects for their region. After construction, many of the affected “swaths” (usually about 50 feet wide) will have pipeline segments underground.

As debate continues in North Carolina and West Virginia, more videos and testimonials will emerge. But the mountain of facts about our country’s reliance on natural gas will remain, as will the need for all the region’s consumers and businesses to access affordable, abundant and clean energy.