Andryszak & O’Sullivan: Investing in natural gas boosts union jobs, lowers prices

As New England and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere confront a tough winter, with energy supplies around the globe tightening dramatically, consumers are bracing for what will likely be high gas, electricity and heating bills for the rest of the season.

Blessed with ample reserves of natural gas and with an experienced commitment to responsible operations, America’s natural gas transmission industry has the means and the desire to alleviate supply constraints and high energy prices by connecting producers to consumers. But recently, several planned investments to create new natural gas pipelines and related infrastructure, have been shelved or put on hold in the face of legal and regulatory challenges.

In September, PennEast Pipeline Co. announced it was cancelling its pipeline, designed to transport natural gas from the Marcellus/Utica shale in Pennsylvania to households and businesses in New Jersey, due to New Jersey denying necessary permits. The Northeast Supply Enhancement project, which could transport enough gas for 2 million homes in three states per day, has been delayed due to state regulatory complications. Work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline is currently more than 90% complete, but the project has faced years of delay due to opposition challenges and litigation related to previously approved and acquired permits.

Canceled and delayed pipeline projects are driving higher energy costs for Americans and killing thousands of good-paying union jobs in the construction sector. The Laborers’ International Union of North America is one of the nation’s largest construction unions, representing over half a million members, with energy — predominantly natural gas pipeline infrastructure — constituting a main sector of our work. Over the last decade, the natural gas industry has provided tens of millions of work hours for LIUNA members, creating good construction jobs with family supporting wages and benefits.

Thousands of LIUNA members spend their entire construction careers within the pipeline sector, developing the expertise and experience to ensure these projects are built with the highest safety standards and quality. The delays and cancellations like those mentioned lead to chaos and economic uncertainty for construction workers and their families.

Despite regulators’ resistance to building new infrastructure, demand on our existing systems continues to increase as families, businesses and power generators continue to enjoy the benefits of our country’s natural gas resources. U.S. natural gas consumption has increased by 25% over the last decade and is forecast to continue rising.

Natural gas also comes with clear environmental benefits and supports the energy transition. As the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, natural gas is the most inexpensive, flexible, reliable option to offset renewables’ characteristic intermittency. The successful pairing of these fuels has made the U.S. into a global leader on climate.

The U.S. has reduced CO2 emissions more than any other country since 2000, with the transition to a mixture of natural gas and renewable energy leading to a 33% reduction in CO2 emissions from 2005 to 2019, even with electricity generation increasing. And there’s still potential for more environmental gains. For example, natural gas infrastructure companies are researching how to safely blend renewable hydrogen produced by wind or solar power into natural gas pipelines, which would further cut emissions while also bolstering renewable energy capacity.

As we’re seeing play out in real time, exporting U.S. natural gas abroad can enable our allies and trading partners to realize the same climate and economic progress as the U.S. Our ability to deploy new fuels to support a clean energy future around the globe is reliant upon our ability to make further investments in natural gas transmission and storage infrastructure here at home.

Fostering natural gas infrastructure investments now — through sound policies and predictable regulations that protect both the environment and energy reliability — is critical given the expected increasing demand for natural gas. Interstate Natural Gas Association of America member companies are ready to make the necessary investments, and LIUNA members stand ready to work. We’re asking policymakers in New England and across the country to work with us to achieve those goals.