The question of whether the United States needs more pipeline capacity to carry natural gas, natural gas liquids, crude oil and petroleum products over long distances returned last week when President Joe Biden, on his first day in office, issued an executive order canceling permits for the Keystone XL pipeline in the Great Plains.
The immediate effect of Biden’s order was to cause a new strain in U.S.-Canadian relations, as the government of Canada was counting on the pipeline to move its crude oil to ports on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It also, according to pipeline developers, cost about 10,000 American union construction workers their jobs and deprived American companies that make steel pipe of a large customer.
Closer to home, people who oppose pipelines won a victory last week when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in a 2-2 vote with one abstention, declined to approve a request from the developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline to bore under 69 waterbodies and wetlands along 77 miles of the pipeline at its northernmost end in West Virginia.
Not all permits have been secured for pipeline work in West Virginia. Some have been tied up in court.
The aim of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is to make natural gas from West Virginia’s Marcellus and Ohio’s Utica shale regions available to residential and industrial customers in Virginia and North Carolina. If built, the pipeline would run from Wetzel County to an existing compressor station in Virginia and then southward.
As with any undertaking of this size and nature, there are questions of whether the pipeline is needed, whether construction would adversely impact the environment of sensitive areas and whether landowners whose land the pipeline would cross are being treated fairly.
There are several ironies in all this.
One is that Appalachians are willing to tear down a mountain to build a road or a shopping center, but they find drilling under a creek to install a pipeline to be unacceptable.
Another is that propane (liquified natural gas) and compressed natural gas are being used as cleaner alternatives to diesel fuel in tractor-trailers and buses. That gas has to get from the well to the filling station somehow.
Natural gas provides cleaner electricity than coal, but it needs to get from the well to a processing plant and then into a pipeline for delivery to a power plant.
Renewables are the future, but we need a bridge to that future while technology and infrastructure are developed. Natural gas is our best bridge at this time. The gas industry needs to be responsible in its construction and maintenance of pipelines, and the federal government needs to honor its commitments in permitting instead of making permits subject to the whims of whatever new administration takes office.