The US Natural Gas Pipeline System Needs to Be Expanded and Upgraded

The US Natural Gas Pipeline System Needs to Be Expanded and Upgraded
Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids via AP

The recent natural gas pipeline explosion in Massachusetts showed that many of our oil and gas pipelines are aged. In fact, much of the country’s natural gas pipeline system was constructed in the 1930s and 1940s, susceptible to rust and corrosion, which can lead to leaks and explosions. There is a national necessity not only to build more pipelines but also to replace the old ones. 

Given that oil and gas are modeled by the U.S. Department of Energy to still supply 55 percent of our energy in 2050, is there any more obvious energy reality for us than the requirement to upgrade the expansive system that transports these irreplaceable fuels?

Natural gas, in particular, is increasingly the go-to, low-carbon energy source as well as the flexible backup for intermittent wind and solar. In fact, “gas could overtake oil as the largest U.S. energy source this year,” according to experts at DNV GL. Those of us wanting to fight climate change must keep in mind: “Thanks to Natural Gas, U.S. CO2 Emissions Lowest Since 1985.”

But in certain areas of the country, there is an urgent need to replace aged pipes. This is especially true in the New England area, where anti-pipeline activists are not just causing much higher energy prices but also dangerously blocking the need to upgrade the system. This can’t be tolerated in a region where natural gas is increasingly the main source of electricity. For as far as the U.S. Department of Energy models, gas will supply 36 percent of New England’s energy in 2050. The region has a “known need for more natural gas pipelines.” Fortunately, upgrading the system is an effort that is supported by U.S. Senator for Massachusetts Ed Markey

More and newer pipelines aren’t optional but mandatory: “Pipelines are safer, cheaper, and greener.” It’s completely unrealistic to think that “more wind and solar” means less pipelines are needed. If anything, more renewables mandate that more pipelines are needed because gas is the essential backup for their intermittency, which is an obligation in a consumer society like ours.

It will be a challenging endeavor. But it is an absolutely essential one. For example, our gas pipeline grid is an integrated system of interstate and intrastate transportation links that ship gas to nearly any location in the U.S. The American Gas Association reports that our network, is composed of more than 210 pipeline systems, includes over 300,000 miles of transmission pipelines, more than 1,400 compressor stations, and more than 11,000 delivery points to as many as 5,000 receipt points and 1,400 interconnection points.

That’s enough U.S. gas pipelines to circle the Earth 12 times.

Unfortunately, however, the push to build more and newer pipelines, which are made from steel, is hampered by President Trump’s steel tariffs. A 500-mile pipeline, for instance, requires 64,375 tons of steel. Since a lot of the specialty steel required isn’t made in the U.S., tariffs are increasing energy costs for American families and businesses. This goes against the president’s “U.S. Energy Dominance” plan. 

Policymakers take note. As important as building new bridges and roads, the need for bigger and better pipelines is an essential part of the $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that has bi-partisan support. 

Jude Clemente is Editor of RealClearEnergy.

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