Report: ‘A Bridge to Nowhere’ Is a Vision of Fracking Future in the U.S.

by Jason Schwartz

August 4, 2016

Natural gas has been touted by U.S. leaders from both sides of the aisle as a bridge fuel. But a massive build out of wells, pipelines, plants, and export facilities across the country indicates that it may actually be the final destination. A shocking new report from Oil Change International has details.

To understand just how deeply our lawmakers have drunk the Kool-Aid brewed by industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute, look no further than Colorado and Virginia, two states with Democratic governors who have pretty much sold out their contituents to the oil and gas industry. John Hickenlooper and Terry McAuliffe have pushed natural gas as a “bridge fuel” so hard, they are paraded by industry (and booed by activists) as poster boys for fracking.

If McAuliffe has his way, his Virginia may soon be home to two gigantic pipelines transporting fracked natural gas across the state, seizing a 900-mile corridor from Virginians and potentially doubling his state’s current emissions through methane leakage alone. And Hickenlooper’s Colorado has virtually been bought by the oil and gas industry; it is one of the most fracked states in the country.

As I write this, Coloradans are fighting to get initiatives on the November ballot that will allow local communities to have a say in whether they have fracking wells in their backyards or not.

Children walk to school past a tank being used in oil and gas production in Weld County, northern Colorado, the most intensively fracked area in the United States.

Children walk to school past a tank being used in oil and gas production in Weld County, northern Colorado, the most intensively fracked area in the United States.

You might expect this kind of behavior from Republicans. But the fact is, both major U.S. political parties are into natural gas right now. Yes, Democrats on the national stage seem to still be working out their feelings, but when you actually stop to look at the state level, natural gas is rapidly replacing coal as the source of this nation’s electricity. As such, it is touted as the bridge between a dirty fossil fuel based energy system and the clean energy future, which implies that natural gas is some kind of semi-clean middle ground.

The thing is, that’s completely false.

A new report by Oil Change International looks at the planned build-out of a breathtakingly massive network of pipelines across the eastern seaboard. Those pipelines will up capacity to transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, two enormous gas deposits. Because pipelines are the only way to move natural gas from its source, the absence of that infrastructure creates a bottleneck. But once those pipelines are built, and once the plants and terminals are put in place to burn and export the fuel, natural gas will stop looking like a bridge and start looking a lot more like our final destination.

We encourage anybody who is interested to go check out the report itself, as it is an enlightening and sobering read. But for now, here are some key takeaways. Are you sitting down? Good.

  1. There are 19 pipelines currently proposed in the Appalachian Basin alone, from Pennsylvania to Louisiana with dozens more planned. Two gigantic pipelines are at the center of this network, the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. North Carolina’s Duke Energy is financing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to distribute gas across the state. And Virginia’s Dominion Power is one of the key financiers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Once installed, the proposed pipelines will double the capacity to transport gas in the region.
  2. Methane “leakage” is definitely a problem, but mitigating it is not a license to increase production. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and it escapes at all points of the life cycle of natural gas. The Obama administration recently passed legislation that would greatly reduce methane leakage, which is a good thing. But the increased consumption of natural gas would undo all the savings and make sure we exceed U.S. climate targets. Furthermore, the report points to a number of studies showing that investing in natural gas to replace coal undermines replacing it with renewable energy. It’s not about controlling methane leakage, it’s about stopping the growth of consumption of fossil fuels and moving to renewables. That is the only way we combat climate change.

    A figure from the report shows projected gas extraction growth from the Marcellus and the Utica formations.

    A figure from the report shows projected gas extraction growth from the Marcellus and the Utica formations.


  3. “Lock in.” Every year the planet gets hotter, the release of greenhouse gases becomes a bigger problem. Natural gas infrastructure is meant to last 40 years. Once the huge investment in capital has been made in gas infrastructure, it will not be a simple proposition to get its investors to abandon it. Basically, we are “locking in” a commitment to a fuel, just by installing this infrastructure.
  4. Gas plans are global. Production of gas from the Appalachian Basin will increase by 55 percent. Domestic consumption will increase by 24 percent. The difference? Exports. Just think about it. With the EU trying to isolate its biggest source of gas (Russia), Japan shuttering all of its nuclear facilities after Fukushima, and China and India expanding its gas-burning plants and fleet of compressed natural gas vehicles, exporting liquefied natural gas is going to be huge business. This is a minor point in the report, but it kind of blew our minds.

The report has some a lot more terrifying nuggets, all done up with Oil Change International’s typically rigorous analysis. If you are at all invested in the fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground, go get some firepower.

Jason Schwartz

By Jason Schwartz

Jason Schwartz is a media officer for Greenpeace USA based in New York City.

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