Exports explain interest in gas pipeline

Project isn't about need, it's about greed

AFTER MANY SIGNIFICANT LEGAL and legislative defeats, it’s tempting to think that the massive Access Northeast gas pipeline is dead. That project would transport natural gas from the fracking fields of southwestern Pennsylvania to New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and maritime Canadian ports.

In the past year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled against the plan to finance the pipeline by a mandatory fee on electric rate payers, and the state Senate seconded that with a 39-0 vote to block the so- called “pipeline tax.”  New Hampshire regulators also rejected the developers’ financing scheme.

Several analyses have determined that this high-pressure pipeline is not needed at all. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey concluded that the state’s energy demand, which fell last year by 4%, and is expected to be down until 2030, could be met far more easily and cheaply with energy efficiency and existing resources.

Natural gas pipeline capacity is so sufficient that there is no need for risky investment in pipelines, according to a University of New Hampshire study. The report echoed Healey’s findings, saying “the promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy will have at least as much return on investment as expanded pipeline capacity — without exposing ratepayers to higher electricity rates from expensive infrastructure.”

Despite these setbacks, and with Massachusetts on track to use about 30 percent less natural gas by 2030, the project’s backers, Spectra Energy and its parent Enbridge, Eversource, and National Grid, persist in pushing the project.  Why?

As the New York Times reported recently, the Trump Administration is bullish on plans to export huge amounts of natural gas for sale abroad. Forbes magazine reported last year that the US had become a net exporter of natural gas. China looms as a major market for gas producers, and rising energy prices in Europe are creating opportunities there as well. Senator Edward Markey and others have long predicted that the export markets were the true targets of the pipeline companies.

The pipeline’s proponents won’t admit this, of course, even though Enbridge, a Canadian energy company, recently acquired Houston-based Spectra, and even after applications have been filed that would pave the way for exporting the fracked gas to Canada and over to Europe, where prices are much higher.

Trying to make it all seem in the public interest, the pipeline’s advocates – in an irony for the fossil fuel industry – instead invoke the climate-change-related “polar vortex” winter of three years ago, when Massachusetts set a record for snowfall and experienced a handful of unusually cold days.

That logic quickly becomes illogical. Spending $6.6 billion on a pipeline to cover the possibility that gas could be in short supply for a few hours, on a few days, in a rare, super cold winter, is like building an expensive addition on your house to accommodate your distant relatives who rarely visit (and who you hope, won’t), and if they do, stay only for a night or two. You can find better and cheaper alternatives to construction. You can double bunk, or even pay for a five-star hotel and save a lot of money in the process. But maybe you don’t care, if you’re using other people’s money, which is what the pipeline partners are planning.

Another polar vortex, or two or three more, does not warrant such a massive and disproportionate response.  We may never see another winter like that one but, if we do, ISO- NE now requires gas powered generators to have back-up supplies of liquid natural gas or oil to meet temporary shortfalls. That makes far more sense, financially and environmentally, than building a $6.6 billion pipeline that will be around for generations to come.

Meet the Author

Andrew Savitz

Executive director, Consumers for Sensible Energy
The dirty secret is that the Access Northeast Pipeline isn’t needed, at least not for New England, not now, and probably not ever. This pipeline isn’t about need, it’s about greed.  New England just happens to be on the path from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania to the export markets of Europe.

Andrew Savitz is executive director of Consumers for Sensible Energy.