A tanker arrived in Boston Harbor carrying natural gas that would keep residents’ homes warm for the rest of the winter. The late-January delivery came from Siberia. Why are some parts of America reliant on Russian natural gas, especially when domestic gas production has surged?
The problem is entirely political. In 2016 officials in Massachusetts and New Hampshire blocked financing for the $3 billion Access Northeast Pipeline, which would have reliably provided fuel to three New England states. That same year a report from Massachusetts Attorney General
office claimed the state could “maintain electric reliability” without new infrastructure. The Russian gas heating Boston homes this winter suggests otherwise.
Politicians are opposing pipeline projects to curry favor with increasingly radical environmentalists. The activist group 350.org is organizing online campaigns to oppose every new coal, oil, and natural-gas project. Greenpeace claims it is time to leave fossil fuels “where they belong: in the ground.” The Sierra Club is pushing the U.S. to abandon all fossil fuels, claiming the country is ready for 100% renewable energy.
These ideas might sound nice, but they would hurt America’s most vulnerable citizens. Blocking natural-gas pipelines needlessly inflates consumers’ energy bills and destabilizes the electrical grid.
Natural gas and coal are responsible for about 64% of America’s electrical power. Only 15% comes from renewables. Because of its relatively low price, natural gas is the primary energy source for half of American homes. Since 2006, when the fracking revolution began, natural-gas prices have dropped 27% for residential consumers.
Forcing utilities to rely on far more expensive renewables would mean skyrocketing bills. Families with low incomes would be forced to choose between keeping the lights on and putting food on the table.
A 100% renewable future would likely be technologically impossible. A 2017 analysis in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews concluded: “In all individual cases and across the aggregated evidence, the case for feasibility is inadequate.”
The ultimate irony is that natural-gas pipelines help the environment. With more pipelines, power plants could switch from coal to natural gas, which emits up to 60% less CO2.
Many have already switched, which explains why carbon emissions from power plants have dropped by 25% since 2005, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that traps 30 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide does, have fallen 16% since 1990. Natural-gas production has doubled in that period.
The anti-fossil-fuels campaign is neither realistic nor environmentally sound. Blocking pipelines and other energy infrastructure projects raises costs on American families while forcing them to rely on
to heat their homes.
is a senior scholar at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.
Appeared in the March 13, 2018, print edition.