August 21, 2014
electricity and heat? More jobs? Cleaner air?
It all sounds
good. Unless you’re a Bay
As part of its
Energy Direct Project, Houston-based Kinder Morgan wants to build
a natural-gas pipeline along northern Massachusetts.
The probable route, as described by The Berkshire Eagle, “is expected to angle northeast
from an existing gas line coming from New York into Richmond; it
would then pass through Lenox … and towns
County and possibly Hampshire
County on its way east to Dracut.”
Even The Boston Globe recognized the billion-dollar
project’s “potential to lower -- or at least stabilize -- what are some of the
highest energy costs in the nation.” Each of New England’s
six states land on the
top-10 list for costliest residential electricity, and the story’s
essentially the same for natural gas.
More supply is
a no-brainer for the region. But the energy IQ of the ecochondriac community
isn’t impressive. Along the projected path of the pipeline, a rebellion is brewing,
because the natural gas to be imported will be the product of … fracking.
fracturing, the revolutionary technique to tap reservoirs once thought impossible
to profitably access, is rampant in nearby Pennsylvania. From scant extraction a decade
ago, the Marcellus Formation
now provides nearly 20 percent of national
demand for natural gas. But to those susceptible to professional
alarmism, fracking is akin to mountaintop mining and clearcut logging. Maybe
worse. It causes earthquakes, poisons groundwater, and disturbs wildlife. Throw
in the NIMBY talking points deployed against almost every land-use proposal -- safety
will be compromised, “family farms” will be disturbed, property values will
plummet, “climate change” will worsen -- and the pipeline’s opponents might
have all the weapons they need.
plants being hounded
out of business and Vermont
Yankee’s closure imminent, natural gas is more critical than ever to New England. Between 2000 and 2012, the fuel’s share of
generation in the six states rose from 15 percent to 52 percent. And with
heating oil so pricey, many homes have made the switch. (Many more want to.)
response? “Alternative forms of energy,” says Rosemary Wessel, a founder of “No
Fracked Gas in Mass.”
Right. Yet a chorus of voices on the less-unhinged left grasps that natural gas
makes sense. A 2011
paper by the Progressive Policy Institute described the hydrocarbon as “relatively
cheap, clean, and efficient to transport,” as well as “abundantly available and
constant rather than intermittent.” It “can and should,” the think tank
concluded, “be a permanent part of [the] balance” between the economy and the
environment. In March, White
House advisor John Podesta lectured his fracking-fearing ideological brethren:
“If you oppose all fossil fuels and you want to turn that switch off tomorrow,
that is a completely impractical way of moving toward a clean-energy future. With
all due respect to my friends in the environmental community, if they expect us
to turn off the lights and go home, that’s sort of an impractical suggestion.”
The choice is
fuels or nothing, because the
bright, green dawn has yet to break for energy in America. Solar accounted
for 0.2 percent of all electricity generation in 2013. Wind fared better, at
4.1 percent, but its growth is not the result of market forces, but massive
corporate welfare at the local, state and federal levels.
worried about “global climate change,” natural gas is a gift. Its use, noted
the University of New Hampshire’s V.K. Mathur, “is credited with playing
the most significant part in a 13 percent drop in U.S. carbon emissions since 2007.” Earlier
this year, the left-tilting Brookings Institution
analysis of the “net benefits” conferred by new electricity plants. Looking
at both expenditures and “avoided carbon dioxide emissions,” author Charles R.
Frank concluded that solar and wind “are very costly from a social perspective
because of their very high capacity cost, their very low capacity factors, and
their lack of reliability.”
Then there’s wildlife.
Las Vegas Review-Journal recently
reported that in eastern Nevada,
a “wind farm … has been forced to change operations after its massive turbines
killed triple the number of bats allowed under an agreement with federal
regulators.” The next day, the
Associated Press wrote that the birds consistently cooked by a solar-power
station in California
“mark the latest instance in which the quest for clean energy sometimes has
inadvertent environmental harm.”
In Energy Fantasyland,
scientific and economic verities never intrude. In Energy Realityland, tradeoffs
are accepted as an undeniable part of life.
D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.
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