March 22, 2018 at 5:00 am ET
How does the largest natural gas-producing country in the world wind up importing liquefied natural gas from Russia?
The answer is tragically simple: hypocritical energy policies that prioritize anti-fossil fuel, “Keep It in the Ground” ideology over sound economics, safety and, yes, even climate change.
Environmentalists have admitted they’d rather import LNG than build new pipelines to access domestic natural gas. Meanwhile, New England, New York and most recently Maryland have either banned fracking or blocked pipeline infrastructure projects, even as they implement energy plans that call for increased natural gas use.
The ramifications of this disjointed policy have been on full display during an unusually cold winter in the Northeast: sky-high energy prices, the threat of blackouts and the burning of higher-emitting fuels for electricity generation.
More worrisome, though, is that this avoidable mess recently led to Boston Harbor accepting a shipment of LNG originating from a sanctioned Russian facility some 4,500 miles away.
New England imports 20 percent of its natural gas despite a massive supply available from the nearby Marcellus Shale. Anti-pipeline activists are doing their best to keep it that way — if not make the region even more dependent on imported gas.
Environmental activists are also playing politics with grid reliability. A recent report by the region’s grid operator, ISO New England, predicts that the lack of access to natural gas means the grid is likely to be at risk of fuel shortages and rolling blackouts in the next few years.
Even as this situation has become crystal clear, elected leaders in New England have refused to allow the build-out of adequate infrastructure to meet increasing natural gas demand. The Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court also blocked financing for a $3.2 billion pipeline project that would have helped alleviate the problem.
New York, which has denied permits for numerous pipelines since 2016, has also been preventing an affordable and domestic supply of natural gas from reaching New England. Those pipelines would have helped families in the region heat their homes with American fuel, but a fringe political campaign like “Keep It in the Ground” fought tooth and nail to stop that from happening.
The financial costs of pipeline obstruction have also been staggering. Natural gas prices were $35.35 per million British thermal units in New England last December. That’s almost 12 times what the rest of the country was paying that month.
U.S. households today are spending a smaller percentage of their incomes on energy bills than any other time in modern history — thanks largely to fracking. But New Englanders pay about 30 percent more for natural gas than the U.S. average.
Anti-pipeline groups are even wrong when it comes to climate change — the issue they argue is the greatest threat facing human civilization. The fuel shortage that has resulted from anti-pipeline policies has actually led to the burning of higher-emitting (and more expensive) fuels for electricity generation.
A recent Boston Globe editorial observed that, because New England chooses to import natural gas from Russia and other areas of the world with more lax environmental regulations, the carbon footprint of using foreign gas is likely much larger than what it would be if New England would build the infrastructure needed to access Marcellus gas.
“Keep It in the Ground” advocates and opponents of fracking are not really interested in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, much less ensuring that New England families have affordable and available energy supplies. Using more natural gas from the Marcellus Shale would help us achieve those goals.
The activists who laid down in the path of pipelines to block construction have effectively rolled out the red carpet for Russian LNG.
Nicole Jacobs is field director for Energy in Depth Appalachian Basin.
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