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.