Kinder Morgan’s pipe dream is economic nightmare

CLF positions on T fare hike, natural gas are consistent

THE JANUARY 22 opinion piece (“CLF’s contradictory philosophies”) by Anthony Buxton, an attorney for the energy company Kinder Morgan, argues that the Conservation Law Foundation’s (CLF) policy positions on MBTA fare hikes and electric consumer-funded natural gas pipelines are somehow contradictory. The problem with Attorney Buxton’s argument is that increasing gas pipeline capacity would neither ensure energy savings nor address our widespread carbon emissions, but it would certainly line his client’s pockets.

Before we explain why the world of savings he imagines does not actually exist, it is worth noting that there are lots of ways one could theoretically improve the MBTA’s balance sheet in the short term—the MBTA could sell drugs on the trains, for example, or stop performing maintenance on their brakes, or turn off all the lights. But all of these proposals, just like Mr. Buxton’s, would be terrible ideas, even though they make or save the MBTA money.

Attorney Buxton’s client, Kinder Morgan, an energy company that operates a large network of natural gas and refined petroleum products pipelines around the country, has not been shy about its desire to increase New England’s existing pipeline capacity by more than 50 percent. Its plan would result in the expenditure of $6 billion to $8 billion on one or more new, long-lasting, natural gas pipelines.  Unfortunately for New England’s consumers, Kinder Morgan and its gas industry compatriot, Spectra Energy, are insisting that the electric consumers of Massachusetts and the rest of New England pay for 75 percent of the bill. This kind of forced consumer investment in highly volatile gas markets is unprecedented, and for good reason: it is rife with risk and downside.

The massive pipeline proposed would contribute nothing (literally, nothing) to our energy grid for over 300 days a year. As currently managed, our existing infrastructure provides more than enough capacity year-round except for a few dozen peak days each year, and those peak days can be addressed with improved management that includes fixing leaks to our current pipelines, better utilizing the liquefied natural gas (LNG) and gas storage we already have available, and building out our renewable power alternatives. A CLF study by gas consultant Skipping Stone concludes that this approach will meet our gas needs through 2030 and save consumers $340 million a year and $4.4 billion over 20 years.

So why does Kinder Morgan, which in 2014 already had one-third of the natural gas that moved in the United States pass through its assets, really want this pipeline? Transporting this much gas through a region where it won’t be needed sets up Kinder Morgan to use this pipeline to export gas to Europe, further padding the company’s pockets on the backs of Massachusetts residents.

More importantly, Attorney Buxton’s ideas have already been tested around the country and the results have been less than ideal. Pennsylvania and New York are both regions that have seen an enormous proliferation of gas and pipelines, yet last winter energy prices in both areas surpassed those in New England. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

A growing body of evidence—topped by a November 2015 report done on behalf of the Massachusetts Attorney General—demonstrates undeniably that more natural gas capacity is not needed and any claims to the contrary are more fallacy and delusion than sound economics. Why would we lock ourselves into decades of the dirty fuels of yesterday at a time when clean solar power and wind are getting cheaper each day and clean energy technology, such as grid-scale battery storage, is fast emerging? Investing in natural gas line capacity will make New England over-reliant for the foreseeable future on a fossil fuel and impede our path to clean energy.

It is true that 16 years ago CLF supported the development of new natural gas power plants. At that time, New England’s power sources were over 40 percent coal and oil and the associated air pollution was literally killing people. In the intervening years, natural gas plants helped to displace those dirtiest generators, but their role has grown from 15 percent of our fleet to over 50 percent. In 2010, ISO-New England, the organization that governs our energy grid, warned that we were already in danger of being over-reliant on natural gas. We have reached that point today and any further increases will present a reliability risk and considerably limit our ability to diversify our options at a time when climate change is our most urgent environmental priority and the need for clean, carbon-free energy has never been greater.

On top of the countless economic arguments against further build-out of gas pipelines, the environmental impacts of Kinder Morgan’s proposal would be equally disastrous. Spending billions of dollars on pipeline expansion will beget more gas plants, more gas leaks, and more carbon dioxide spewing into our atmosphere for generations to come. As a matter of public health, and as a matter of law, we must reduce our carbon emissions in every sector dramatically over the next few decades. At 40 percent of total emissions, the transportation sector is a critical piece of that puzzle.

Therefore, both of CLF’s positions—on fare hikes and natural gas line capacity—are quite consistent. They seek to protect the pocketbooks and environment of Massachusetts residents.

Meet the Author

Meet the Author

Rafael Mares

Vice President, Conservation Law Foundation
Greg Cunningham and Rafael Mares are vice presidents of the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation. Cunningham directs CLF’s Clean Energy and Climate Change program and Mares directs CLF’s Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice program. 

Editor’s Note: Anthony Buxton represents many clients in favor of increasing the region’s natural gas pipeline capacity. They include the Industrial Energy Consumer Group and the Coalition to Lower Energy Costs. His firm, PretiFlaherty, also represents Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan.