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Pipeline Politics
Bottlenecks Threaten Energy Security in Northeastern US

Don’t look now, but natural gas production is booming in the American northeast. Thanks to gregarious shale producers (and no thanks to New York state’s short-sighted moratorium on fracking), natural gas production in the Marcellus shale formation has grown more than eight times over as compared to 2010 levels. This chart, courtesy of data sourced from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), says more than words possibly could:

In the nearby Appalachian basin, gas production has jumped 3,400 percent in less than four years. This all sounds like good news, right? Even from an environmental perspective, this is a positive development: all of this cheap shale gas is helping displace much dirtier burning coal, helping curtail American emissions and reduce local air pollution. And yet, and yet…NIMBYism and ill-founded green suspicions are threatening to strangle this boom. The FT reports:

[T]he east contains some of the US’s most densely settled areas. While these towns represent a huge potential market they are prickly over the idea of hazardous infrastructure running beneath their land. Pipeline companies accustomed to having their way in Texas have received a harsh welcome in states such as New York and Connecticut. Amid rising controversy, billions of dollars of projects have been delayed, denied or cancelled.

“The farther north and east you go, the more challenging it becomes. I think it’s a combination of population and the organised environmental consciousness,” says Bill Yardley, president of US transmission at Spectra Energy, a Houston-based operator of some of the biggest pipelines in the north-east.

Property owners have their own decisions to make regarding the construction of pipelines, the logic of which is necessarily going to vary case by case. But speaking on general terms, this is a vital portion of America’s energy infrastructure that is languishing in one of the nation’s most populous regions, and the end result of these pipeline bottlenecks is—you guessed it—higher energy prices.

That’s especially harmful to the northeast’s poorest, whose power bills make up a larger portion of their monthly budgets. Expensive energy has a depressive effect on all sorts of economic activity, but it hurts poor households the most, and in this way can be considered a kind of regressive tax. The northeast has the resources to help combat this, but until it builds out its pipeline network, its own people won’t be able to reap the fruit of those labors.

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  • rheddles

    A virtual pipeline is an alternative. See Compass Natural Gas

    • Proud Skeptic

      Isn’t that just what they do with propane? The cost of delivery, tanks, etc. is a substantial part of the per gallon price. Then, of course you have to convert. Not sure this is THE solution so much as A solution. THE solution is to let gas companies go ahead and bury pipelines like they do all over the place everywhere else.

      • rheddles

        Similar, but not the same. Rather than individual tanks for every user, there would be local pipes for a small area. A trailer would be hooked up to the pipeline each week and replaced the week after with a full one. It is a trade off of the operating cost of delivery versus the capital cost of building a pipeline.

        • Proud Skeptic

          Gotcha. Either the best or worst of both, depending on your psychological leanings.

  • Fat_Man

    I think we should ban all energy exports to states that will not allow fracking and pipeline building. Let them burn Federal Regulations to stay warm.

  • ljgude

    As someone who grew up in that neck of the woods, I can’t say I am not surprised. Even though Greens in many ways are just a bunch of closet reds – ie watermelons – the culturally conservative nature of the people of the North East is just deeply suspicious of ‘change’ and ‘progress’. I am NOT talking political conservatism or even the kind of social conservatism your see among evangelicals but which is just conservative in the most generic way. If it wasn’t part of my own make up, I would never notice. It is more like you don’t throw away a perfectly good table even if it doesn’t match your chairs. And you are not impressed with the latest model car that wants to park your car for you and doesn’t need a key. And you really are not about to support a pipeline that changes the view on a road you drive twice a year just so you can have cheaper heating. Better to put on an extra sweater and chop a bit more wood.

    • Andrew Allison

      As somebody once married to a self-described banana, I congratulate you on the splendid “watermelon”!

    • Proud Skeptic

      I can’t say I am not surprised”. Is that what you meant to say?

  • LarryD

    As usual, the gentry’s virtue-signaling cost fall hardest on others. Maybe we should challenge the Ivy League schools to go entirely renewable power, so the next generation learns what that reality would be like, before they force it on the rest of us.

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