The recent debate over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline has highlighted the growing divide in Virginia over how to approach our Commonwealth’s energy needs. While reasonable people can debate the most prudent energy mix (natural gas vs. coal vs. oil vs. nuclear vs. renewables), there can be no debate that our energy needs are increasing. Our economy can only expand if the required energy resources are available to power new industry, homes, schools, hospitals, etc.
Despite all the emotional rhetoric from opponents of these infrastructure projects, natural gas is safer, cleaner, more abundant and more affordable than most alternatives. Natural gas emits 60 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil. We should harness American creativity and competitiveness to drive efficiency from all energy sources. By making use of all of the United States’ domestic energy sources, we can ensure the best environmental outcomes at the lowest costs.
Natural gas complements renewables like solar and wind and helps ensure that we have a diverse mix of energy resources. While solar and wind can produce varying amounts of energy, they cannot meet our energy needs alone. Natural gas is available on demand immediately and provides critical support to our renewable resources as it also helps us reach our nation’s clean energy goals. Today, natural gas generates 40% of our electricity and is an essential partner of solar, wind, hydro power, and even coal, for our long-term energy needs.
As for the two proposed projects here in Virginia, our domestic abundance of clean natural gas is delivered via the safest energy system in the nation according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Pipelines are the safest, most environmentally-friendly and most efficient and reliable mode of transportation for natural gas according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In fact, a Washington State University nationwide field study in 2015 found that as little as 0.1 percent of the natural gas delivered nationwide is emitted from local distribution systems. Without new pipelines, our streets and highways could be overwhelmed by trucks trying to keep up with the nation’s demand for energy. And the carbon footprint from transporting fuel by pipeline is far less than moving energy by any other method of transportation.
Natural gas is safe, clean, reliable, affordable and abundant. While U.S. natural gas production is up 50% since 2005, total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are down 11% as technological innovation continues to drive down natural gas emissions and costs. Natural gas serves nearly 66.7 million homes in America; 5.4 million businesses including restaurants, hospitals, schools, supermarkets, and hotels; 192,000 factories; and 1,900 electric power plants. On a daily basis, the average U.S. home uses 196 cubic feet of natural gas.
That’s why the Virginia Water Control Board recently approved the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and granted conditional approval to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline pending additional information from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. That’s why pro-business Democrats like Governor Terry McAuliffe support these important infrastructure projects.
(This column first ran in the Roanoke Times on January 22, 2018)