Natural Gas Pipeline Approval Is A National Security Issue / by Norris McDonald

NaturalGasPipe.jpg

The United States is the world’s biggest natural gas producer, yet environmental lawsuits by states, green groups and property owners have tied up pipeline construction.  This is making it difficult to get shipments to some regions, including fuel-hungry New England.  America needs new regulations or laws that favor reasonable approval of pipelines.  In fact, pipeline infrastructure obstruction is a national security issue that puts our country at risk.

The administration of President Donald Trump has said that constraints on pipelines and other energy infrastructure can trigger price spikes and pose a risk to national security but has yet to intervene in state or local-level permitting issues.  U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry agrees that New York’s efforts to stop new pipelines could pose “a national security issue that outweighs the political concerns in Albany, New York.”

President Trump could invoke the Defense Production Act to accelerate pipeline approvals based on national security.  This is a draconian measure, but draconian measures are needed when our national security is at risk.  

NaturalGasPipeline1.png

The United States needs to have the capability to neutralize Russia's natural gas stranglehold on Europe.  The USA can do that by exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG).  Yet, without the pipelines to get our natural gas reserves to ports, such leverage is not possible.  Russia would also like to get Japan hooked on its natural gas and is building a pipeline to do just that.  Again, we need to have the ability to compete with Russia in delivering natural gas to Japan.  The industry is now eyeing growing export markets by investing in facilities that can liquefy gas for shipment overseas. The United States has sent cargoes to nearly 30 countries in the past year.

America cannot afford blackouts, principally because it puts our security at risk.  Nuclear power plants and coal-fired power plants are closing at record rates and are being replaced with natural gas plants.  Base load power plants burn a mind boggling amount of natural gas to make up for nuclear and coal.  If we do not have the pipeline capacity to deliver the natural gas to the plants, we will inevitably have blackouts and brownouts.  This is unacceptable in our internet age.  Right now gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale is being blocked by some neighboring states, which cuts off markets in New England.

Pipeline projects that are under construction are getting held up by judges in lawsuits and this needs to be addressed.  Absent a Defense Production Act pathway, it might have to be addressed either by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) or with legislation.   FERC oversees construction of new pipelines.  FERC in April asked stakeholders to submit comments on whether the commission should revise existing pipeline approval policies, yielding feedback from industry backers.

In recent weeks, environmental groups like the Sierra Club have won court orders delaying construction on EQT Midstream Partners LP’s Mountain Valley pipeline at several locations in West Virginia, and are now seeking a court order to also stop construction in Virginia.  Mountain Valley is one of several pipelines under construction to move gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to consumers in the Southeast, Gulf Coast and Midwest.

NaturalGasPipelinesMarcellusShale.png

Production in the Marcellus and Utica, the biggest shale gas formations in the United States, has ballooned to 28.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) from 1.5 bcfd a decade ago, according to federal energy data. One billion cubic feet is enough to fuel about 5 million U.S. homes for a day.

Polar vortex weather in the winter or a cyber attack could threaten to leave Wall Street in the dark and hospitals without power.  In January, gas prices soared to a record high due to pipeline constraints during an extreme cold spell that forced power generators in New England to resort to burning diesel and Russian imported LNG.  (Reuters, 6/28/2018)