New report shows demand doesn’t justify new natural gas pipelines

Smaller-scale projects, like upgrades to existing pipelines and reversing the flow of another, could meet the region's anticipated natural gas demand without building costly and destructive new infrastructure, according to a new report released today. (© Sierra Shamer)

Two controversial pipeline projects that would cut through a combined 850 miles of mid-Atlantic countryside are not needed to meet the region’s future energy demands, according to a report by independent energy experts that was released Monday.

Proposals for the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines have sparked protests and opposition from governments, citizen groups and conservationists. Utilities and their investors have insisted the new pipelines are necessary to meet the growing energy demands of Virginia and the Carolinas, but the researchers determined that was not the case.

The report from Synapse Energy Economics showed how, with a few modifications and upgrades, the existing system of buried natural gas pipelines is sufficient to meet the region’s peak demands through 2030.

The researchers wrote:

“Additional interstate natural gas pipelines, like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley projects, are not needed to keep the lights on, homes and businesses heated, and existing and new industrial facilities in production.”

The report was released by SELC, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance.

Greg Buppert, an SELC Senior Attorney, said the report means communities and local governments can move beyond discussing only the pipelines’ projected paths and focus on whether such massive and disruptive projects are even necessary.

“The dilemma for communities up until now has been figuring out where these pipelines would be built,” Buppert said. “But today we know they don’t need to be built at all. Despite what we have heard from the utilities, we will have plenty of power and heat without them.”

The researchers studied the wintertime peak demands for the Virginia and Carolinas region, when natural gas is in highest demand for power plants, homes and businesses. To be conservative, the study considered a future with less renewable energy, and more need for natural gas to run power plants converted from coal.

The Synapse researchers then examined the current pipeline capacity and how that capacity could be improved. They determined that, with some already-planned upgrades on one pipeline and a flow reversal on another, the existing system could handle the region’s demands through 2030 with capacity to spare.

That means, the researchers said, new interstate pipelines are not needed.

Buppert said pipeline investments of this magnitude would keep utilities focused on fossil fuel, instead of exploring other energy sources.

“An investment of billions of dollars in natural gas will further discourage these utilities from moving towards renewable energy, like solar and wind power, that could save their customers more money,” Buppert said.

The report also raises the possibility of another utility-driven incentive to push for these projects. Because the supply of natural gas is abundant, utilities are exploring options to export the fuel overseas. That would require more capacity to move fracked natural gas to the mid-Atlantic’s coastal ports. Therefore, “pipeline developers…have an additional motivation to expand their ownership interests in natural gas supply infrastructure,” the researchers said.

In that case, those living along the pipeline’s route would face extensive disruptions during construction—and the loss of land use after—while the utilities and investors reaped the benefits.

“To safeguard public interests, a determination of need for new pipeline infrastructure requires a detailed, integrated analysis of natural gas capacity and demand for the region as a whole,” the researchers wrote.

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