Dec 09, 2016 - 3:45pm

Polar Vortex’s Return Reminds Us Why We Need Pipelines

Senior Editor, Digital Content

Just in time for the return of the polar vortex, for the first time in six years natural gas pipeline capacity will increase in the Northeast.

Lack of pipeline capacity has plagued New England for years. As a result, consumers pay high electricity prices and see natural gas price spikes when the weather turns cold, like the 2014 polar vortex.


Natural gas prices at Henry Hub and Algonquin Citygate: 2007-2016.
Natural gas prices at Henry Hub and Algonquin Citygate: 2007-2016.

A few hundred miles away lay the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale, the second largest natural gas field in the world. But there aren’t enough pipelines to move the energy to consumers.

Even with the new pipeline projects going online, “pipeline project delays were the dominant trend in 2016 for the US northeast natural gas market,” Argus Media reports.

For instance, even though it was approved by federal regulators, New York State has blocked the Constitution pipeline, denying families and businesses access to abundant shale gas, because Governor Cuomo opposes fracking.

This is despite strong public support for energy infrastructure:

The [Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association] and the National Association of Manufacturers survey of 500 registered voters between Nov. 28 and Dec. 3 found 87 percent believe government and private industry investment in energy infrastructure will have a positive impact on the state's economy. That includes 92 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of people that identified themselves as environmentalists.

An assortment of tactics are used by “Keep it in the ground” energy opponents to block pipeline construction:

They use the court system, regulatory system, protests and social media to delay and create anxiety over the potential impacts, said William Kovacs, senior vice-president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber.

“They have the ability to use the courts to sue and delay a project for so long that they bleed the financing out of (it),” he said.

The most attention-grabbing of tactics lately involve opposing oil pipelines.

After the Keystone XL pipeline fight came the battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline filled with arrests and violence. With the Obama administration capitulating in both cases, “Keep it in the ground” extremists hunt for their text target—and warmer weather .

Like Florida:

“Not prepared for cold?” the sign reads, “Help stop the Florida Sabal Pipeline.” The posting was one of several stuck to message boards and buildings in the Sacred Stones protest camp in North Dakota, near the Dakota Access Pipeline. With winter beginning and temperatures dropping, some of the protesters are considering leaving the camp for warmer climes, and one group is hoping to persuade them to join another pipeline protest further south.

Set to be completed in 2017, the Sabal Trail Pipeline will carry natural gas through Alabama and Georgia into central Florida, where it will be used to generate electricity. Ground has already been broken on the project and work is proceeding rapidly. In March, the company obtained a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which allows it broader leeway to use eminent domain to acquire land needed for the project.

And energy-rich West Texas:

Protesters were arrested in West Texas on Tuesday morning near a pipeline being built from the Permian Basin to Mexico.

Members of the Big Bend Defense Coalition were protesting Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners construction of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in Alpine. The Brewster County Sheriff’s office arrested two: coalition founder Lori Glover and Alpine resident Roger Siglin.

“We must protect our water, challenge corporate greed, and come to our senses on the truth of fossil fuels and climate change,” said Glover, who had chained herself to the project’s gate.

Former oil field worker Arajoe Battista chained himself to a fence there but was not arrested, the sheriff’s office said.

The Big Bend Defense Coalition is hoping to rally troops to Alpine, in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, about 70 miles north of Big Bend National Park. Residents moved there to be closer to nature and escape big business, protesters said.

Energy opponents are unlikely to persuade Americans to covert to their extreme ideology, but it shows they’ll continue searching for opportunities.


It also reminds us that we need to reform how we approve energy infrastructure. Permitting processes at all levels of government need to be better coordinated and streamlined, while allowing the public to have plenty of input.

At the same time, governments can’t abandon the rule of law—like President Obama did with the Dakota Access Pipeline--and pull the rug out from under businesses that follow the rules.

A growing economy will need energy, and America is awash in it. We’ll need enough energy infrastructure to support the opportunity at hand.

More Articles On: 

About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.