February 2022 Vol. 77 No. 2


Inside Infrastructure: Ambitious Climate Goals Will Require Natural Gas, Pipeline Infrastructure


Eben Wyman is a veteran advocate for key underground utility and pipeline associations. He points out that maintaining an effective advocacy program is fundamental to the success of any organization interested in the happenings of the federal government. Zack Perconti is an associate with the firm.  
This bi-monthly article for Underground Construction provides keen insight related to laws, rules and regulations that directly impact the underground infrastructure markets. 

By Eben Wyman, Wyman Associates

Anybody paying attention to the national debate over America’s “energy future” recognizes the enduring attacks on natural gas from a well-funded and increasingly emboldened environmental community. While the debate is fierce at the federal level, the conversation is much more intense at the state level. 

Several associations supporting natural gas and the pipeline infrastructure that carries it are educating federal and state policymakers about the role that natural gas will play if the nation is serious about achieving a net-zero emissions by 2050. Additionally, expanding America’s pipeline infrastructure will be necessary to increase the use of renewable energy sources. 

Many states have passed laws, or are considering legislation, that would substantially reduce – and even eliminate – the role natural gas plays in delivering energy. Dozens of communities in California have passed bans or restrictions on the use of natural gas, and the New York City Council voted in December to ban the use of natural gas in new buildings. This action makes NYC the biggest city in America to ban or restrict the use of natural gas, even for cooking and heating. Most of these restrictive measures are pushed through mandatory electrification requirements in future building codes. 

At the same time, many more states have passed, or are considering, “fuel choice” legislation that would prohibit state legislatures from enacting laws with restrictions on natural gas or other fuel sources. While the number of laws and legislative proposals under consideration in a wide range of states seems to change by the day, at this point some 20 states have enacted fuel choice bills into state law, or such bills are making their way through the legislative process. 

Natural gas and renewable energy 

Associations representing contractors who build natural gas pipelines, believe the concept of having to choose between using natural gas and renewable energy presents a false choice. In fact, the use of abundant, clean-burning natural gas actually enables the use of renewable fuels. Meanwhile, the intermittent nature of renewables, such as wind and solar, has shown that these energy sources alone do not have the capacity to meet current and future demand. Natural gas fills the void when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. In truth, America will not be able to achieve its clean energy ambitions without substantial growth of natural gas production and a large expansion of the natural gas pipeline network. 

Carbon capture, use and storage 

Carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) efforts are a focal point in policy discussions related to America’s energy future. However, infrastructure must be built to transport captured industrial and atmospheric CO₂, and pipeline transportation continues to be the safest way to move it. Pipelines are currently the dominant mode of CO₂ transportation, and there are 5,000 miles of existing CO₂ pipelines in limited regions that were developed over the past half century. 

Because not all areas of the country have the appropriate geology for CO₂ storage, it must be moved to regions that do. This will require building the necessary pipeline infrastructure in a wider range of locations. In addition, larger infrastructure with the capacity to handle greater CO₂ volume from multiple sources will provide for more carbon capture for future use. Creating a CCUS market will decrease the demand or supply risk, reduce the total cost and drive technological innovation. 

Collecting increased amounts of CO₂ from multiple sources will allow for more carbon capture for future use. Finally, shared CO₂ infrastructure systems will help connect multiple buyers and sellers of CO₂. Creating a CCUS market will decrease the demand or supply risk for carbon capture, utilization, or storage projects, thereby reducing the total cost of carbon capture while driving technological innovation. 

In March 2021, the “Storing CO₂ And Lowering Emissions (SCALE) Act,” was introduced with the intent to help develop infrastructure to reduce CO₂ emissions, while creating regional economic opportunities and jobs. The legislation would establish carbon-to-value research and initiatives to support development of low- and zero-carbon fuels, chemicals, building products and materials; provide low-interest grants and loans for CCUS efforts, and funding for federal permitting of carbon injection wells. 

Increased use of hydrogen 

Hydrogen is increasingly considered an environmentally superior alternative to conventional fossil fuels for vehicles and power generation. Delivering hydrogen to a variety of facilities, such as power plants, industrial sites and fuel distribution hubs, will require an extensive hydrogen pipeline system. Currently, there are approximately 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipeline existing in the U.S., located primarily along the Gulf Coast. In addition, pipeline operators are also moving hydrogen by blending it at higher volumes within natural gas pipelines. 

Most in the energy industry believe that 20 percent hydrogen concentrations by volume may be the maximum blend before considerable upgrades to the pipeline are required. Converting natural gas pipelines to carry pure hydrogen may be possible in the future and may offer economic advantages over building new pipelines, but the need for a safe and reliable pipeline network will remain. 

Converting natural gas pipelines to carry pure hydrogen is viable and may be economically advantageous over building new pipelines, although both converted and new hydrogen pipelines will face market uncertainty and logistical challenges related to demand. 

In addition, shared jurisdiction among a variety of federal agencies may complicate changes to the regulation of hydrogen. Congress will have to map out the relationship between hydrogen pipelines and other federal and/or state energy initiatives, oversee the related activities among different federal agencies, and prioritize federal efforts to develop hydrogen pipelines. 

Advocacy benefits infrastructure package 

Despite the relentless attacks on the pipeline industry, IIJA funds a wide range of carbon management infrastructure, including $7.1 billion for deployment of carbon capture and removal equipment, $2.2 billion for carbon transport, and $2.9 billion for carbon storage and use. 

Also, $9.5 billion is included in clean hydrogen research, development and demonstration programs to be managed by the Secretary of Energy. The bulk of that funding ($8 billion) is authorized to the newly created Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations for the development of four regional clean hydrogen hubs, to be located in different geographic regions across the U.S., with the goal of demonstration projects and end-use diversity. 

As industry continues to fight the ongoing attacks on natural gas and the important role it plays in ensuring sustainable American energy, one thing is clear as policymakers continue to evaluate alternatives: the need for a significant buildout of pipeline infrastructure remains. These attacks will continue, but the promising language in the IIJA demonstrates that effective advocacy can result in sound policy and even a little common sense. 

WYMAN ASSOCIATES offers strategic consulting with its clients and direct advocacy before the United States Congress and executive branch agencies. Working with several allies in Washington and around the country, provides clients a constant voice in the national debate.  

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