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March 15, 2014

Get ready for more tall tales on natural gas

By Dick Downey Local Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — It’s comment season again for the Constitution Pipeline. The local venue is at Oneonta High School on April 1 at 7 p.m. If past is any indication, expect at large, rowdy crowd ranting about exploding pipelines that incinerate kids, ravaged forests, scattered wildlife, spoiled streams and the inevitable apocalypse caused by hydraulic fracturing. The only thing missing will be the bearded guy in the robe carrying a “THE END IS NEAR” sign but hey, you never know, he just might pop in. Save him a seat.

The antis’ argument is that the Constitution Pipeline expands the fossil-fuel market. As a cog in an evil carbon-based fuel system, the pipeline must be stopped. The rhetoric will be hot. Give no quarter. No surrender.

As for living in this brave new carbon-free world, start the reality check by counting the Raleighs in the parking lot bike rack. Oh, it’s bikeless? OK, just remember tires, pedals, hand grips, and seat are all petroleum-based. Materials for the frame must be mined, forged, and stamped using carbon-powered machines in factories lit by electricity generated by coal. The bike was probably shipped to the U.S. and Oneonta using diesel. Even the cash register at the bike shop uses electricity. And that power come from where? If it isn’t nuked, it’s probably carbon-based.

So let’s get back to reality. The Constitution Pipeline’s function is to move gas from the Marcellus to end users who heat buildings (gas heats half our nation’s homes), cook food, and generate electricity (now 30 percent of total U.S. generation, and growing).

There’s a lot of gas in the Marcellus. Fourteen billion cubic feet per day pours out of this formation, six years ahead of the Energy Information Agency’s forecast. This deluge is overwhelming takeaway capability. Without enough infrastructure, hundreds of recently drilled wells are shut-in, currently not producing. The industry estimates there’s at least five years of connective, distributive and transmission pipeline work in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier alone.

When the two dozen planned LNG terminals are approved and built, gas from transmission pipelines like the Constitution will be sent overseas. (Caveat: since 2011, a mere six terminals have been approved, and only one is scheduled for completion in 2015.) Overseas, as here, gas will be used for heating, cooking, power generation, and chemical feedstock but additionally, it serves our national interests. Our low-cost gas neutralizes a thuggish Vladimir Putin as he threatens our allies in Europe and along the Russian border.

Europe, as a whole, imports 30 percent of its gas from Russia. Germany pipes in 39 percent and the Ukraine tops off at 60 percent. Would Vladimir take advantage of this dependency? A week after invading the Crimea, the Russian state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom raised the rates on the Ukraine. Think of it as Vladimir raising his fist (finger?) to the West and proclaiming, “Gazbusters!!! Who you gonna call?”

Using our enormous reserves (we’ve passed Russia as the world’s No. 1 producer), our European allies can call us. Through their energy ambassadors, the “Visegrad Four” (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic) did so last Saturday. Our gas then does double duty; it affords good jobs and economic growth for our country and, by increasing global supplies, stabilizes prices abroad, loosening Putin’s choke hold on the necks of our friends. We do this without troops on the ground, but still providing an economic velvet fist (finger?) of retaliation and resolve. Meanwhile, research can continue on battery technology, transmission efficiency, and new, more compact renewables, leading to a BALANCED energy system.

When a project like the Constitution brings cheap energy to domestic and foreign consumers, the big losers are the crony capitalists who feed off the subsidies, tax credits, tax abatements, mandates, rebates, loan guarantees and all the other “goodies” that prop up the green energy racket. These selected insiders gamble taxpayer money — a guaranteed pathway to corruption and economic inefficiency. Think Solyndra, A123 Batteries, Fisker Automotive, Abound Solar, Enerl, et. al. Then add the dozens of other companies on federal and state life support. In an opaque administrative state, losers only surface in Chapter 11 filings.

Another class of loser are the likes of Vladimir Putin. His power rests on Russia’s natural resources and income from oil and gas. Bring prices down, Putin loses power.

So let’s get going. First the Constitution Pipeline, completed on schedule in 2015. Then lets build the LNG terminals ASAP. It’s time for another Russian reset. This time let’s be prepared to put the boot to Putin.

Dick Downey is an Otego resident and a member of the Unatego Area Landowners Association.