In the 1989 classic Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character hears a voice in a cornfield whispering, “If you build it, they will come.” Befitting a family movie, he did build a baseball field and spectators did indeed come.
Applying this vintage pop culture expression to the natural gas infrastructure landscape of today is more appropriate than you may think.
Because of the variability of renewable energy sources, natural gas-fired power plants can serve an important role as a back-up source that can be quickly ramped up when the sun is down or the wind stops blowing.
The question is, will natural gas pipelines and power plants we designed for that role - or will the massive build-out of the nation’s gas infrastructure system, to the tune of $150 billion, make us rely on fossil fuels for decades to come?
It’s a pertinent query, considering that 46 percent of the pipeline that exists today sits idle, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
So before we rush to build more at great upfront expense and greater long-term environmental cost, we should remove regulatory and market barriers that keep us from taking full advantage of the massive infrastructure we already have.
“If we don’t, then billions of dollars of capital sunk into new pipelines will fall needlessly on ratepayer shoulders, and potentially constrain the ongoing expansion of clean, low-cost renewable technologies,” writes my colleague Jonathan Peress.
46 percent of the pipeline that exists today sits idle.
This takes us back to the “If you build it, they will come,” analogy.
If we build out our natural gas infrastructure properly, more renewables will indeed come. If we build it out the wrong way, it may stunt the renewable industry’s booming growth.
This is because an overbuilt regional gas pipeline system may, in effect, lock in fossil fuels for a long time and crowd out investments in clean energy.
Just like in Field of Dreams, we need to pay close attention to how we design the thing we build – and make sure we have a long-term strategy that gradually moves us away from dirty power sources and toward a more sustainable future.
See Peress’s full post for more details.
One fact that might come into play here is that many of the old, half-used pipelines are in the wrong places. Shale development, by the very nature of the shale itself, is literally going on all over the shale areas, requiring new pipelines where none exist. This is a whole new technology from that point of view, and will alter pipeline strategies. Add to that new LNG plants being built in coastal areas, including Topolobompo, Mexico, on the Baja. This project includes a plan to lay a 42-inch pipeline from West Texas through Big Bend Country, to Ojinaga, through the Copper Canyon home of the Tarahumara Indians, to the Baja Gulf. This is where an LNG plant will be built to allow export of Texas Eagle Ford and other shale gases to China. After all, why did China invest billions in the Eagle Ford Shale in 2010, and why are they financing the LNG plant being built by Cheniere, a U.S. company, in Ingleside on Corpus Christi Bay, Texas?
Then there is the recently announced 42-inch pipeline being built by NuStar in southwest LaSalle County, Texas, that will export natural gas for sale to Mexico, including deep into Central Mexico and northern Mexico. All this requires thousands of miles of pipelines in places where it was never needed before.
Not good news, because, yes, all this is the frantic attempt of the oil and gas industry to resurrect a moribund fossil fuel-based, billion-dollar business. It results in highly paid executives, upper level managers, engineers, but most of all, corporate power with lobbying power to get what they want from state legislatures and the Congress. And this is not needed, because the world has progressed beyond dirty fossil fuels into the technology of truly clean, renewable and affordable energy resources like wind and solar, and new hydro-based technologies.
Sister Elizabe…July 17, 2015 at 12:00 am