If the winter turns brutal, the New England states and California are at a much higher risk of facing interruptions to their power supply or other “energy emergencies” because of a lack of natural gas infrastructure, according to a nonprofit that monitors these conditions for the government.
The irony is that the country is swimming in ready-to-go natural gas according to the report from the North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC). And the heavy supply is thanks in large part to Pennsylvania’s “oil patch.”
“New England [power] generation continues to be limited by the availability of natural gas,” the NERC report said, even though the same report noted gas supplies are adequate.
However, power generating stations “that lack… firm contracts for natural gas supply and transportation may not be able to deliver” their intended power, meaning the real weakness is not in having the raw fuel, but getting it to the right places, then storing it.
On more than one occasion, the report referenced the nasty New England winter of 2017-18, which included a blizzard in January of 2018 that dropped up to two feet of snow across the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.
The resulting heavy energy use during that severe cold snap eventually led to a Russian tanker offloading Russian liquified natural gas (LNG) in Boston just to help meet the region’s energy demands.
“The U.S. has to import LNG not because it lacks sufficient natural gas production but because market and non-market mechanisms prevent natural gas from being delivered to the northeastern part of the country whenever demand increases rapidly and at a relatively short notice,” wrote Anna Mikulska, a nonresident fellow for the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
“The underlying obstacle here is insufficient pipeline and storage capacity to bring in and store otherwise abundant U.S. natural gas,” Mikulska concluded.
The Boston event only underscored more recent developments, such as in February when the energy giant Williams pulled the plug on the Constitution Pipeline, which would have begun in northeast Pennsylvania and run a 124-mile course to the Albany-Schenectady region in New York.
The Oklahoma-based company said it was better off upgrading the pipelines it already owned rather than build a new one “which can be impacted by an ambiguous and vulnerable regulatory framework.”
Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, says that’s technical speak for “politics.”
“No American should ever have to worry about access to affordable and reliable energy, especially as we head into the winter season while so many families and communities are confronting COVID-related crisis matters,” Spigelmyer told Delaware Valley Journal.
“Unfortunately, Green New Deal-styled policies in New York, California and elsewhere are making life more difficult for consumers without helping our environment. The common-sense solution to combatting high-priced and unreliable energy, as noted in this new report and countless other independent studies, are competitive policies that increase access to clean and abundant American natural gas. There’s no better partner for renewables than the reliability and affordability offered to the grid than Pennsylvania-produced natural gas.”
The Constitution Pipeline was first proposed in 2012 and faced a string of legal and public relations battles.
In May, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration denied a crucial permit to Williams on another project, the Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline, which would have carried Pennsylvania natural gas right into New York City.
“By blocking the pipeline, a move sure to draw widespread celebration from environmentalists, the Cuomo administration is signaling once again that new pipelines aren’t welcome in New York,” a report from Politico said.
Jim Snell, the business manager for the Steamfitter’s 420 union in the Delaware Valley, says it’s not just New Yorkers who would benefit from these pipelines.
“Opponents realize that natural gas has no value if it can’t get to market, so they’ve shifted their focus from the shale fields to pipelines, investing all their time and money to delay and block energy infrastructure projects,” Snell told Delaware Valley Journal earlier this year. “You cannot be pro-business, pro-worker, pro-middle class or even pro-environment if you support halting projects that deliver cleaner-burning, low-cost fuel that consumers and manufacturers need.”
The need to move the gas from Pennsylvania further northeast by pipeline is exacerbated by the Jones Act, a 100-year-old shipping law.
LNG from Pennsylvania or the Gulf Coast could be shipped to New England, but the Jones Act makes that cost prohibitive, according to many analysts.