Marcellus Shale Update – 2.15.2018

It’s a few years too late, but the foolishness of absolutism under the guise of environmentalism finally is becoming too much to ignore.  Just two weeks after I railed against New England importing natural gas from Russia, the ultra-liberal Boston Globe joined in.  On Tuesday, in a remarkable 2,000 word editorial, the Globe finally said what needed to be said about the anti-pipeline movement.

Where I disagree with the Globe is in its portrayal of Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey as a fighter against these gas shipments.  Markey may have demanded the Federal Government stop the importing of gas that was drilled in Russia, but Markey has done nothing to alleviate the problem New England is causing itself by its environmental policies.  If anything, he’s done the opposite.  It is curious that while Markey demands Federal action to stop these Russian gas shipments, he remains mute over the usurpation of Federal control over our interstate gas pipelines by ideological state regulators under the pretense of protecting clean streams.

Environmental absolutist self-righteousness isn’t limited to New England, of course.  I saw it firsthand at the Delaware River Basin Commission hearings in Philadelphia three weeks ago.  The West Coast is full of it.  California has sued the Trump Administration over 25 times about rules related to hydraulic fracturing.  Churches, mosques and synagogues in Oregon have environmental committees seeking to prevent more oil and natural gas pipelines in that State.  Oregonians don’t seem to question the wisdom of having their gas and oil brought in by rail over the environmentally sensitive Columbia River Gorge.  In June 2016, 16 oil tank cars derailed from a Union Pacific train, igniting an explosion, spilling 42,000 gallons and forcing an evacuation of the town of Mosier.

Then there’s New York.  Usurping federal power over interstate pipelines granted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by using a loophole in the Clean Streams Law, Governor Andrew Cuomo has blocked the building of any pipeline from the Marcellus Shale region of Northeastern Pennsylvania into New England.  Even if New Englanders wanted to stop paying off Vladimir Putin, they couldn’t until Governor Cuomo approves.  I take no position on the entire Trump/Russia collusion spectacle, but it is ironic that the people actually putting American dollars into Mr. Putin’s pocket are the politicians of New York and New England.

By any rational evaluation, the shale revolution and the pipeline buildout have been a net positive for the environment, the economy and our national security.   No matter how ineptly the energy industry makes its case, that use of natural gas has decreased our carbon emissions to levels not seen since the late 1980’s (more than offsetting any increase in methane emissions), given hope and money to people in rural communities that were on the verge of bankruptcy, allowed individuals with only a GED to get good jobs that actually can support their families and made our country functionally energy independent for the first time in my lifetime.

Rationality often is lost in this debate, however, to be replaced by ideology and extremism.  As with most absolutisms, that has the opposite of its intended effect.  How else do you explain the goings-on in Boston?  What Northeast politician would run on a platform that he/she would encourage drilling for natural gas in the Arctic with lax or no environmental safeguards, transporting that gas in ships of unknown safety through sensitive habitats, charging New Englanders for that gas eight times the amount paid by Pennsylvanians for their gas and sending much of that money to Vladimir Putin’s cronies?  It’s all happening now – right before our eyes.

This is not to say that regulation of these pipelines shouldn’t be robust and vigorous – it should, and this is not to say that there isn’t a place for national environmental policy to interact with national energy policy – it must.  It is to say, however, that these issues need to be examined from a practical, not ideological, perspective.  There is nothing noble about drilling into the ground for gas and oil or in building pipelines.  They all have downsides.  But so does everything else.

Let’s keep looking for ways to develop, store and transmit renewable energy, including spending large sums of tax dollars on research and development, but let’s not use the hope of a truly renewable, environmentally-neutral power supply to prevent us from doing the things now to clean our environment and protect our children’s future.  To do otherwise would be national negligence.

Questions? Let Dan know.

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