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Facing threats to pipeline development, industry seeks to reset conversation

Essential Energy Insights - June 11, 2020

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Facing threats to pipeline development, industry seeks to reset conversation

Municipal gas bans and environmental opposition to new natural gas infrastructure are a threat to the industry but are a big leap away from crippling the pipeline sector, according to veteran energy executive Stan Chapman III.

Paraphrasing Mark Twain, the TC Energy Corp. executive vice president and new chairman of pipeline trade group Interstate Natural Gas Association of America said, "The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated."

The threats to pipeline builders have included rejections of Clean Water Act Section 401 permit applications by states such as New York that have resisted more gas infrastructure in their drive toward renewable energy as well as lawsuits by environmental groups that have succeeded in asking federal appeals courts to strip federal authorizations by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies.

Broader threats to natural gas use have included municipal bans on gas service in buildings and several Democratic presidential candidates who oppose gas production.

At his public introduction in Washington on Jan. 7, Chapman said the gas bans were "not necessarily an epidemic," being confined to isolated areas on the West Coast and East Coast. Even in those places, parties have stepped forward in favor of gas as an energy option, he noted. And Chapman said those who push for eliminating gas might reconsider if it drives gas prices from $2 to $10/MMBtu. "It's not a world I want to live in," he said.

Even as several large pipeline projects bogged down in 2019, TC Energy brought into service one of the largest, the Mountaineer XPress project, an approximately $3 billion outlet for Marcellus and Utica shale production.

The resistance has cost industry money, time and lost projects. Faced with this diversity of threats, companies needs to show the nation that gas pipelines are crucial to the economy and have a place in a low-carbon future, he said.

The U.S. cannot live without natural gas infrastructure, according to Chapman, and the trade group will try to educate the public, lawmakers and the next presidential administration, whether it belongs to President Donald Trump or one of his Democratic challengers. "Natural gas infrastructure is deeply interwoven in our economy, and we are better off for it," Chapman said. He is chairman of TC PipeLines GP Inc. and president of U.S. gas pipelines and executive vice president at TC Energy.

Two of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America's, or INGAA's, priorities in 2020 include promoting gas infrastructure as a foundation of the nation's energy portfolio and the bedrock of many other industries, either as a fuel or as a feedstock, and emphasizing the role of gas in reducing emissions.

INGAA President and CEO Don Santa said "there is a good story to tell" on the environment. Santa and Chapman reiterated that natural gas has helped lead to lower carbon emissions as power plants switch from coal to gas, and gas can back up intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Improving technology has helped reduce methane leaks from compressor stations and other pipeline facilities, they said.

Other priorities of INGAA, which turns 75 years old in 2020, include ensuring a regulatory, legislative and judicial framework that provides stability for pipeline developers in permitting and in operations; ensuring the reliability and resilience of the interstate pipeline network; and promoting pipeline safety through risk management, technology and innovation. The Trump administration is supposed to release a proposed framework of the National Environmental Policy Act, something INGAA commented on with many other interested parties during development.