Natural gas pipeline project permitting sits at the nexus of the debate about the best path toward decarbonization. Industry proponents rightly point out that pipelines can reduce aggregate emissions by displacing much higher burner-tip emissions from coal in power generation. Environmental opposition, though, highlights that a high rate of methane emissions along the gas value chain could undermine those potential improvements. In today’s RBN blog, we consider the net decarbonization impact of new gas pipelines, including the importance of quantifying upstream methane emissions, by looking at a couple of canceled or long-delayed pipeline projects that could make a big difference.
Over the last six years, developers have canceled five major projects proposed to take Appalachian gas to premium markets on the East Coast: Williams’s Constitution Pipeline, UGI Energy Services’ PennEast Pipeline, Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP), Enbridge’s Access Northeast expansion of Algonquin Gas Transmission, and Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct expansion of Tennessee Gas Pipeline. All but Northeast Energy Direct were canceled after receiving Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certificates, which even six years ago nearly guaranteed that a proposed gas pipeline project would be completed. Equitrans continues to pursue key federal permits for its Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) after court rulings early this year sided with environmental groups and revoked its permits for the umpteenth time. That project is now eight years into its development, with an unclear timeline for completion.
Pipeline development grinding to a halt has restricted Appalachian gas production growth. After averaging 3-4 Bcf/d of growth each year in the 2013-19 period, operators added just ~1-2 Bcf/d combined over the last three years. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin took up MVP’s cause this summer, securing a commitment from President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to adopt a bipartisan permitting reform bill in exchange for his support of the Inflation Reduction Act, which became law in August. Although that permitting reform bill died this fall, Manchin continues working toward a bipartisan solution, most recently attempting to include it as part of the upcoming must-pass defense appropriations bill. Part of the reason the pipeline (and permitting reform more broadly) has become a political hot-button is that plenty of folks are unclear about what the net emissions impact of such pipelines and infrastructure would be. So, in the spirit of the holiday — and Charles Dickens’s classic 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol — we’ll explore that question by focusing on one ghost of pipelines past and one ghost of pipelines future.
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