Sunday, February 1, 2015

The ‘Jihad on Pipelines,’ New Jersey Front

The battle over the Keystone Pipeline masks what NJ Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine calls “a jihad on pipelines [by] radical environmentalists . . . on the theory that if you choke off delivery you can eventually choke off production” of fossil fuels. New Jersey is a prime battle ground in that jihad, with Sierra Club-led activists rising against three recently proposed major pipeline projects—a South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pinelands, which “pitted business and labor unions against environmentalists” and would enable “the BL England power plant in Cape May County . . . to switch from coal to cleaner-burning natural gas.” (So much for environmentalists concern for air quality.); a Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings liquid petroleum pipeline through North Jersey’s Highlands region; and the PennEast natural gas pipeline through Western New Jersey.

The PennEast pipeline would run through my home county of Hunterdon. Consequently, I have been actively involved in the debate over the pipeline. As part of that, I posted an eComment on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) website. FERC will be holding several public hearings on the pipeline, in which concerned citizens can register comments that would become part of FERC’s official public record. Citizens can verbally comment at the hearing, comment via the website, or both. Below is essentially what I posted on the FERC website in regard to the agency’s upcoming hearings on the PennEast pipeline:

Reliable, plentiful, on-demand energy is the driver of our industrial civilization—the industry of industries, powering virtually every modern technology and thus our unprecedented ability to protect ourselves from and adapt to climate dangers, extreme weather, diseases, and other natural hazards. Today, fossil fuels are our main energy source.

Undoubtedly, there are legitimate concerns surrounding the building of any industrial project. Yet, organized opponents seem motivated not by balanced cost-benefit analysis but by dogmatic, one-sided opposition to the pipeline—and fossil fuels generally—without consideration for the energy benefits. As one opposition leader, Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, acknowledged, he opposes the pipeline for “promoting fracking in Pennsylvania [and] the use of fossil fuels.” Furthermore, opponents have said, the pipeline . . .

  • “would disturb pristine lands.” This implies that it is intrinsically wrong to change or impact the natural environment through human activity. Industrial impact on natural assets need not be wanton, of course. But human beings survive and thrive by altering and improving nature, and it is right to do so. It is wrong to value pristine nature above life-enhancing industrial projects. Human life takes moral precedence over unaltered nature. Tittel labeled the pipeline “an ugly scar through the land.” But a natgas pipeline delivering the energy of life—a product of human ingenuity—is itself a thing of beauty for the livelihoods of producers and for filling the heating, cooking, and electrical needs of consumers. And how many windmills or acres of solar panels—the environmentalists’ supposed replacement for fossil fuels—would have to “scar the land” to deliver the energy equivalent of the PennEast pipeline? As Alex Epstein notes in his book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, windmills require 100 times more steel than natural gas to deliver equivalent amounts of energy. That’s a lot of infrastructure. On the “pristine” standard, no energy source is justified.

  • “would discourage ‘renewable’ energy.” No one suggests discouraging alternatives. But neither should we discourage—or worse, suppress—fossil fuels. Even with windmills or solar farms in the energy mix, we would still need a reliable energy source—and the pipelines that deliver it—to maintain power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

  • “would contribute to pollution.” So do wind and solar. Like anything else, natgas carries pollution risks that must be weighed against the benefits and the risks of not having it. Would any rational person argue for the abolition of antibiotics just because they have some potentially harmful side effects? The answer is to minimize pollution through technology, not forego the enormous benefits of natural gas energy.

  • “threatens a clean water source.” Currently in America, there are 305,000 miles of existing natgas pipelines and 2 million miles of local distribution natgas pipelines, not to mention 185,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines. Just to the north of PennEast’s proposed route, several Transco natgas pipelines cross the Delaware River, passing about a mile from my home in Readington. Yet, there is no shortage of clean water in Hunterdon County or in America. Clearly, pipelines and clean water can and do coexist. More essentially, these pipelines deliver the reliable energy that powers our water purification and delivery systems. Without this energy, our “watersheds” could not be turned into the clean water conveniently available at the twist of a knob in our homes.  

  • “is unsafe.” All industrial projects involve safety risks, and PennEast has the responsibility to use the most state-of-the-art safety technologies available. But opponents seem to be demanding 100% guarantees against risk. This is akin to demanding something impossible to man—infallibility and omniscience. On this “perfect safety” standard, nothing would ever get accomplished.

  • “wouldn’t benefit the local community.” No one has the right to speak for the entire  community. Fortunately, under our constitution, no one has the right to stop commerce across state lines. But imagine if they could. Everyone benefits from commerce passing through other communities. People along the proposed PennEast pipeline path wouldn’t have electrification, gasoline, or food and myriad other products that fill the shelves of local stores—or even natgas—if not for commerce, including existing pipelines, that pass through countless other communities. If every community had the power to halt commerce, we’d still be suffering in pre-industrial poverty. “There’s nothing in it for me” is not a valid argument.

  • “isn’t needed.” No one has a right to arbitrarily dictate what other consumers need or don’t need. There is only one objective mechanism for determining the “need” for any product or service—the market; i.e., the voluntary choices of consumers. If PennEast projects a demand for natural gas—which, in the NE, is underserved—it has the right to invest and build to meet that demand. “‘We’ don’t need it because I don’t need it” is not a valid argument.

Opponents say the pipeline will hurt “the environment”. But they seem unconcerned with the kind of environment people need—an environment teeming with modern industrial technologies—and the energy needed to sustain it. They strive to strangle pipeline development as a means of shackling the fossil fuel industry in the hope that “renewables” will replace the lost energy. What if it doesn’t? Nowhere on Earth have renewables succeeded is becoming a primary energy source.

To the extent “renewables” can contribute to our energy needs, the demand for fossils and thus pipelines will naturally decline. But given the vital importance of reliable energy to our lives, we shouldn’t suppress any energy technology. We should welcome energy producers of all kinds, consistent with common sense technologically and economically feasible environmental, safety, and anti-pollution policies, and due respect for property rights.

The requirements of human life is the only proper standard of value for the decisions we make. Pipelines deliver the energy of human life, and should be evaluated on that basis.

Related Reading:

My Published Letters to the Hunterdon County Democrat Concerning the PennEast Natural Gas Pipeline:

The Secret History of Fossil Fuels—Chapter One, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein

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