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New England’s Natural Gas Infrastructure Blockade Leads to Emissions Spike

After years of politicians and environmental activist groups working to block natural gas infrastructure, New England has become more dependent on fuel oil for electricity generation, resulting in a massive spike in greenhouse gas emissions.

When used for electricity generation, fuel oil has higher carbon emissions than natural gas, but power generation companies have been forced to burn more of it because of a lack of natural gas supply during recent bouts of cold weather. Reuters reports:

“New England’s electric grid delivered a massive blast of greenhouse gas into the region’s air during a recent stretch of cold weather, as power stations switched from natural gas to dirtier but cheaper fuel oil, according to data from the grid’s operator.

“During the six weeks ended Feb. 7, the region’s fleet of power stations burned 1.7 million barrels of fuel oil, accounting for more than 10 percent of the grid’s electric capacity, according to ISO New England. Fuel oil typically accounts for less than 1 percent of the region’s power production.

“Burning that fuel oil produced about 3.55 billion pounds of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in January alone, up 4,800 percent from emissions from fuel oil in January 2021, according to emission rate estimates used by ISO-NE emission analysts. The grid’s total carbon dioxide emissions totaled about 8.8 billion pounds in January, up 44 percent from the year-ago period.” (emphasis added)

Reuters also reported that as natural gas prices have risen globally, New England is in a particularly difficult spot because of lack of investment in natural gas infrastructure thanks to efforts to block this development:

“New England’s natural gas pipeline capacity is also limited, making it difficult to ramp up deliveries into the region when needed. A series of proposals to expand that capacity to bring in more supply have been rejected in recent years due to public opposition to new pipeline infrastructure.”

Axios’ Lachlan Markay plainly stated that this has resulted in New England lacking a modern energy system that’s spewing high levels of greenhouse gas emissions:

Earlier this month, Energy In Depth noted that U.S. Senators from New England sent a letter to the Biden administration seeking to block LNG exports in a flawed attempt to keep energy prices low, but it’s been these same senators that stalled the production and shipment of natural gas that Reuters observed is restricting supply.

These are the same politicians that vowed to block responsible domestic energy development in the name of protecting the environment, but their tactics have clearly backfired with this recent rise in emissions.

During her presidential campaign, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) vowed to ban fracking:

And several years before that campaign, Warren also wrote an op-ed stating that she would support blocking natural gas infrastructure:

“Before we sink more money in gas infrastructure, we have an obligation wherever possible to focus our investments on the clean technologies of the future — not the dirty fuels of the past — and to minimize the environmental impact of all our energy infrastructure projects. We can do better — and we should.”

Environmental activist groups have also worked to block natural gas infrastructure, like the Conservation Law Foundation, which tweeted in 2019:

Similarly, in 2015, after former President Barack Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, New England vowed to block more pipelines in the region:

“Over the coming months, we will build on this victory as we fight to stop new gas pipelines and other proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects across New England and beyond. Spectra, Kinder Morgan, and other fossil fuel companies should be getting very nervous right now: Keystone XL is one of the first fossil fuel projects to be stopped by our movement, but it will not be the last.” (emphasis added)

New England is now paying the price for this anti-energy activism. Costs are rising and reliability is falling for residents, as Energy In Depth discussed last month. Now the region is likely to experience much higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions than it otherwise would have if it had built a modern natural gas system, as Reuters forecasted:

Tight gas pipeline capacity puts New England at the mercy of global gas markets, which can be disrupted by wild weather and geopolitical tensions and makes switching to more carbon-intensive fuels like oil more likely.” (emphasis added)

It doesn’t have to be this way. Natural gas not only helps ensure an affordable and reliable supply of power for residents, but it also been the critical fuel that’s led to the United States achieving a massive reduction in CO2 emissions from that sector over the past 15 years when emissions were initially projected to rise.

Last year, a report from Berkeley Lab discussed the key role that natural gas played in that accomplishment:

“Natural gas generation grew from 761 billion kWh in 2005 to 1,617 billion kWh in 2020. Assuming this growth only displaced coal and considering the relative emissions rates of gas and coal, we estimate that increased natural gas supply reduced 2020 CO2 emissions by 470 MMT or 48 percent of the total emissions reduction since 2005.” (emphasis added)

The results are clear: fringe politicians and activist groups have worked for years to block natural gas infrastructure in New England and now emissions are rising as the regions relies more on higher emitting fuels, despite ample evidence that natural gas is playing a crucial role in lowering emissions around the country.

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