Column: Energy surplus requires infrastructure
President Donald Trump recently declared, “We are now an exporter of energy to the world.” Yet due to shortages this winter, Boston has been forced to import Russian natural gas to ensure people have the fuel they need to heat their homes.
Trump is right. Right now American oil and gas output is 50 percent higher than any other country’s has ever been. According to projections from the International Energy Agency, the U.S. will be the world’s largest exporter of natural gas by the mid-2020s.
So why does Boston still need to get gas from Russia? Because America’s energy infrastructure is woefully insufficient for our needs. Production can break all known records, but if we can’t deliver natural gas where local supplies are running short, people will be left in the cold.
Unfortunately, bad court decisions and burdensome regulations are hamstringing our ability to develop the infrastructure we need.
There are two basic ways natural gas moves from point A to point B — that is, from the wells producing it to its myriad users, ranging from giant electricity generation plants to New England cottages in winter. The first is by pipeline in its gaseous state. The second is supercooled to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit — at which temperature it transforms it into a liquefied state that decreases its volume by a factor of 600.
A pipeline that would have brought affordable natural gas to New England is currently on ice. The Access Northeast pipeline would have upgraded and expanded the current Algonquin pipeline system so that it fuels approximately 60 percent of the region’s power sector.
The companies sponsoring Access Northeast argued that the expansion would have brought cheaper natural gas to New England power plants, ultimately saving New England residents $1 billion a year. And that’s saying nothing of the jobs and opportunities the $3.2 billion project would have brought the region.
While Massachusetts’ Gov. Charlie Baker proposed a plan that allowed electricity ratepayers to pay for the much-needed pipeline expansion, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court struck it down. Without expanded pipeline capacity, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the only way to go. LNG is ideal for long-distance and intercontinental shipping. But liquefaction of natural gas and regasification of LNG require special facilities. Fortunately, a regasification plant in Everett, Mass., opens New England’s door to LNG traveling by ship.
But while New England knew it would need extra natural gas this winter or face rolling energy blackouts, it was unable to bring American LNG from the Gulf Coast thanks to a 1920s rule that prohibits foreign vessels from shipping LNG between U.S. ports. Currently, none of the world’s 500 tankers are U.S. built and registered and crewed by Americans, as the rule requires.
So residents had to buy foreign gas to keep their heat on. And Boston is considering importing even more to cope with its ongoing natural gas shortage. The United States already has a surplus of natural gas. New Englanders shouldn’t have to import Russian fuel just to stay warm.
Paul Diego Craney is the spokesperson and a board member of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.