Political obstructionism in the energy marketplace in Massachusetts led to predictable results during a cold snap earlier this winter: the cost of generating electricity increased so much that heat and power almost disappeared.
Public policy pandering to environmental extremists through the blocking of new natural gas pipelines ironically forced riskier environmental practices, and, if that’s not enough, led to possible violations of U.S. trade policy. During the cold snap, generators emitted more carbon when they were forced to resort to burning oil in addition to natural gas. In possible violations of U.S. sanctions, generators bought liquified natural gas (LNG) from the Russians when they were within days of running out of oil.
All this was going on with the world’s most abundant, affordable, and clean burning supply of natural gas is sitting just a few hundred miles south in the Marcellus Shale. But as the old New England saying goes, without pipelines you can’t get there from here.
“Energy is life, and our neighbors in New England could make good use of affordable energy from Pennsylvania, which is why the obstruction of radical greens is tragic,” said PMA President & CEO David N. Taylor. “The extremists are so myopic that their dead-end obstruction of new energy infrastructure increased emissions and jacked up costs for everyone.”
Bill Ryan, spokesman for the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy, said that the Boston region has seen a huge increase in demand for natural gas over the past two decades with generators, as they are in many regions, replacing oil and coal with natural gas.
“But the pipeline infrastructure during that period has not changed,” he said. “So, it's sort of the like a highway that was designed for 50,000 cars that is now carrying much more than that. Eventually the road just can't handle any more traffic. Same thing here.”
The region has become obsolete for energy intensive business, including manufacturers whose hourly wages are among the highest in any business.
Robert Rio, Esq. Senior Vice President, Government Affairs for the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said the only way a business with a high reliance on energy will locate in the region is if it is subsidized by the government or the contract demands that the business locate there.
“It doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon,” Rio said. “If anything, policies are getting worse. There are bills in the legislature that require 100 percent renewables in the generation mix. That’s not some time in the future. That’s now.”
Overall, New England relies on imported LNG for about 20 percent of its natural gas, says American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Perry. Without new pipelines this reliance will only increase.
“In the past two years, regulatory obstacles have led to the cancellation of two pipeline projects, which is ominous for a region that desperately needs more natural gas to make up for the shutdown of nuclear and coal plants,” Perry said. “Moreover, there are those in the region who promote themselves as climate leaders but continually block new gas pipeline capacity.”
Besides the possible sanctions and violations, buying Russian LNG brings its own sort of environmental problems. The following is excerpted from the Boston Globe in a February 13 editorial:
“To build the new $27 billion gas export plant on the Arctic Ocean that now keeps the lights on in Massachusetts, Russian firms bored wells into fragile permafrost; blasted a new international airport into a pristine landscape of reindeer, polar bears, and walrus; dredged the spawning grounds of the endangered Siberian sturgeon in the Gulf of Ob to accommodate large ships; and commissioned a fleet of 1,000-foot icebreaking tankers likely to kill seals and disrupt whale habitat as they shuttle cargoes of super-cooled gas bound for Asia, Europe, and Everett.”
Yet, the extremists won’t budge. In 2015, the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group based on Boston, published a report spurning the need for new pipeline capacity in New England.
After the first shipload of Russian gas arrived in January, an attorney with the group, David Ismay, told the Globe that they stood by their earlier recommendation.
“I think it’s important to understand that LNG is a globally traded commodity,” he said, shrugging off buying gas extracted from the Artic.
Meanwhile, Marcellus gas is much more affordable and is harvested under the highest U.S. environmental standards. Plus, consuming Marcellus gas would eliminate reliance on foreign gas, which may be extracted with little or no environmental protections. That’s a recipe everyone should agree on.