[Editor's note: Map of existing and planned natural gas routes with neat magnitude treatment of largest connectors being built with the topology linkage emphasized. Red and green problematic for color impaired viewers but the online (color) version is easier to read than the black-and-white newsprint version, ever the bane of the newspaper cartographer.]
Natural-Gas Grid Increasingly Reaches Into Sensitive Areas
By BEN CASSELMAN
Reprinted from Wall Street Journal
August 4, 2008; Page A4
America’s natural-gas boom is driving the construction of thousands of miles of new pipelines, many of them crisscrossing heavily populated or environmentally sensitive areas.
About 4,400 miles of new pipeline will be built this year, according to government projections. That is more than 2.5 times last year’s figure and the biggest annual addition in the 10 years data have been collected. The new pipe will carry 47 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas, triple the amount carried by new pipeline in 2007, itself a record year.
The construction of highly pressurized lines snaking under farms and past residential areas is raising fears about safety and environmental impacts in communities along the new pipeline routes. Companies building the pipelines face lawsuits, eminent-domain battles and jurisdictional fights among the local, state and federal authorities that oversee the projects. Two New England projects have been held up or canceled in recent months because of local opposition. Even energy-friendly Texas has seen growing opposition to some projects in Fort Worth.
“The greatest need is in the most densely populated areas, which in turn are the most challenging places to site infrastructure,” said Robert Cupina, principal deputy director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission office that oversees pipeline construction.
The pipeline boom is being driven by the need to distribute growing natural-gas production to markets across the nation. The U.S. is increasingly relying on natural gas as a fuel that is cleaner than coal, much cheaper than oil — albeit not as cheap as in past years — and, unlike most renewable alternatives, readily available. Natural gas generated 20% of U.S. electricity in 2006, up from 13% a decade earlier. Demand for natural gas could grow even faster if Congress passes new limits on carbon emissions, or if it becomes more popular as an alternative to gasoline, as Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens has recently proposed.
Natural-gas production “could be completely transformative to our country,” said Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of natural-gas giant Chesapeake Energy Corp. “The plumbing is being built right now.”