Environmental regulations bring a halt to two major oil and gas pipelines

U.S. pipeline manufacturers suffered a bad week. Or, maybe, a bad year.

On Monday a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline development shut down pending a new environmental review while, the same day, the Supreme Court rejected an environmental permit the Keystone XL pipeline needs to continue construction. Both pipelines have already lost billions over years of delays won by environmental campaigns.

On Sunday, Dominion and Duke Energy—two of the U.S.’ largest utilities—scrapped plans for a 600-mile long Atlantic Coast Pipeline, too. Environmental lawsuits and delays increased the projected cost of the pipeline from $5 billion to $8 billion.

And back in May, New York State blocked two natural gas lines by withholding water permits. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said construction of the underwater pipes would have churned up contaminants such as mercury in New York harbor.

National Grid, which proposed the New York pipeline, has discussed trucking in oil and gas as an alternative delivery system. That’s not great either. According to the Fraser Institute, trucking oil has the highest instances of spillages per million barrels moved. Pipes are actually the safest, with the lowest spillage rates. But when it comes to environmental protection, spillages are everything.

Building entirely new pipelines to increase fossil fuel supply goes against the consensus on climate change, which calls for reduced reliance on carbon-emitting fuels. The DEC said as much when it rejected National Grid’s pipeline plans.

The department argued that prolonging the use of natural gas is inconsistent with New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act 2019, which mandates New York state achieve an 85% reduction in carbon emissions across all sectors by 2050.

As renewables become cheaper and carbon emissions become more expensive, demand for fossil fuels will decline. Some say it has already peaked, although it could make a comeback once the pandemic clears—as Fortune’s Katherine Dunn points out in an article about Warren Buffett’s latest bet on energy storage. Buffett bought Dominion’s pipeline network and storage units but, crucially, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline remains cancelled.

There might well be a fossil fuel spike post-pandemic, providing a boon for owners of current storage facilities. But betting on long-term expansion—the sort you’d need new pipes for—no longer seems smart.

More below.

Eamon Barrett
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