Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2019.
Robert Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant, former public servant of 27 years and prior to that a diplomat for 10 years.
On January 2, 2019 the Maryland Board of Public Works rejected a proposed right of way for a subsidiary of Trans Canada Pipelines that would carry natural gas produced in Pennsylvania to West Virginia. The Board concluded that the pipeline would “bring Maryland environmental problems without economic benefits”.
The rejection came after 60 elected state representatives sent a letter urging the board members to reject the proposal. In doing so, they referred to the fact that Maryland had passed a law in 2017 to ban hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas in Maryland. The letter included these statements:
“Given that Maryland has banned fracking, it defies our state’s existing energy policy to bring the same public health risks to our residents by way of a pipeline… Moreover, enabling fossil fuel production runs counter to the state’s goals of increasing renewable energy production.”
The letter also noted that the pipeline would cross at least 10 wetlands and 19 streams, in addition to the Potomac River.
When reading stories like this, one is tempted to think that indeed alien invaders have landed and turned a substantial portion of the population into beings completely out of touch with reality and logic. For the sake of dampening the enthusiasm of any in Canada who might applaud decisions like that taken by the Maryland Board, let us dissect it.
Natural Gas Production in Pennsylvania Has Nothing to Do with Fracking in Maryland
Whatever the merits of Maryland’s decision to ban hydraulic fracturing within the state, they presumably concern the allegations that this production system may have adverse effects on earthquakes and on groundwater quality in Maryland. It is not the responsibility of the Maryland government or any of its agencies to make judgments about the safety of natural gas production techniques in other states. In fact, Pennsylvania has been a significant gas producer for many decades and has the fastest rate of production growth in the U.S. Pennsylvania is fully capable of judging how to protect its environment and economy.
Constructing Natural Gas Pipelines Does Not Pose Undue Environmental Effects
It should be obvious that construction of a pipeline to transport natural gas across Maryland poses none of the issues associated with hydraulic fracturing. Natural gas transmission pipelines have been built in the United States for over a century.
As indicated in the following graphs, there are about 320,000 miles of gas transmission and gathering systems in the United States.
Mileage of Natural Gas Transmission and Gathering Pipelines in the United States 2004-2017
Source: U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Why, one wonders, would anyone think that natural gas pipeline systems will pose unacceptable local environmental risks in Maryland when no other state in the union has found this to be so? Those 320,000 miles of gathering and transmission lines cross millions of wetlands, rivers and lakes. Indeed, constructing gas pipelines so as to safely cross waterways has been part of the engineering of pipelines for decades. Systems for avoiding adverse water effects are constantly improving, not deteriorating.
Blocking Natural Gas Supplies to Neighbouring States will Not Support Renewable Energy
The natural gas that would have been transported by the Trans Canada system was intended for delivery to West Virginia, one of the poorest U.S. states, but one that is seeking to have additional natural gas supplies for residential, commercial and utility purposes. To the extent that the natural gas would have been used for power generation, it largely would have replaced coal-fired generation, as gas is a cheaper fuel.
The State representatives’ argument that denying the pipeline right of way would “enable” fossil fuel production is clearly wrong, in that fossil fuel-based electricity generation in West Virginia has been going on for many decades, and will go on for many decades to come. Blocking one source of natural gas supply does not mean that one has blocked them all, and West Virginia and its residents will almost certainly continue to search for the lowest cost, as well as the most reliable, source of electricity generation. That is not wind and solar energy.
By attempting to constrain West Virginia’s decision as to its future sources of energy, Maryland demonstrated similar presumption as it did in judging that Pennsylvania should not produce natural gas by hydraulic fracturing.
The Arrogance of Environmentalists
Canadians, and Albertans in particular, will recognize the actions of Maryland as similar to those of British Columbia and Quebec in blocking oil pipeline access to export markets. In all these cases, those who claim that humans are causing a global environmental problem are choosing to use their geographic position as a blunt tool to deprive their fellow citizens of access to energy markets and/or access to secure and competitively priced energy supplies. They are doing so when the amounts of energy and related emissions involved are tiny compared to the global growth in emissions, which are driven by Asian economies. In effect, they are imposing significant economic harm on others for no environmental gain.
These actions should be identified and condemned wherever they occur.