Pipelines Are Key to Strong Economic and Environmental Future

The American Spectator recently published a column by Jordan McGillis, Deputy Director of Policy with the Institute for Energy Research (IER), explaining the importance of safe pipelines in meeting our nation’s energy needs and fueling the economy while also prioritizing environmental conversation.

McGillis points to several recent setbacks for infrastructure development including Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Atlantic Coast. He notes, “This news flurry has elicited exaltation from environmental activists, but their joy is misplaced. A world without pipelines would set us back not only economically, but environmentally as well.”

The piece highlights that less pipelines doesn’t mean less demand for natural gas and oil – it simply means it will be transported by alternative methods:

What would a world without pipelines look like? First, no pipelines would not mean no fossil fuels. Fossil fuels would remain affordable (albeit less so) and reliable and would therefore still be in demand. The difference would be in which fuels are used and how they’re transported. These are not differences that environmentalists would find pleasing.

Road and rail are demonstrably less secure than pipelines and increase the probability of spills. Importing natural gas via trans-oceanic shipping line would seem redundant given that the U.S. is the global leader in gas production, but pipeline squeezes have prompted New England states to import liquified natural gas all the way from Russia in recent winters. It should go without saying, but the material and energy requirements for moving gas from Siberia to Boston far exceed those of the regional pipeline network that would do the job if not for the domestic legal barriers in place.

McGillis further expounds that environmental activists think that wind and solar will be bolstered by shutting down pipelines, a so-called win for the country. Think again – he argues:

The environmentalist fantasy is that pipeline shutdowns will usher in an economy powered by wind and solar. What they fail to appreciate is that a wind-and-solar economy would be an environmental catastrophe in its own right. The power density of oil and gas enables a relatively small footprint for energy systems. Wind and solar do not share that characteristic. According to research from Strata, natural gas requires 12.4 acres to produce one megawatt of electricity, solar requires 43.5 acres, and wind requires 70.6 acres. Work headed by David Keith, Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, indicates that meeting U.S. total energy demand with wind power would require covering 72 percent of the country’s continental land area with wind turbines. A 2019 Wood Mackenzie analysis estimates that a decarbonized power grid would require an addition of 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmissions lines — enough to wrap around the planet eight times.

The so-called energy transition would also require unprecedented extraction of critical minerals like lithium and cobalt, the production of which China-based firms dominate, raising the prospect of future environmental, human rights, and geopolitical crises. Against this backdrop, pipelines don’t look so bad.

McGillis concludes that pipelines are essential to “delivering affordable, reliably energy affordably and reliably.” Rather than opposing new much-needed infrastructure development, we must welcome investment in our pipeline network.  

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