FACT CHECK: Will Blocking Pipelines Reduce Demand For Natural Gas?


In a column in the New York Times, journalist Will Harlan claims that blocking pipelines from crossing the Appalachian Trail – an issue before the U.S. Supreme Court – would reduce demand for natural gas, leading instead to major investments in renewable energy:

The potential implications of this case are enormous. If pipelines cannot cross the Appalachian Trail, energy companies will have to reroute or cancel them completely, perhaps opening the door for more large-scale investments in renewables. A ruling for the trail could set off a shift away from natural gas to renewable energy.




Demand for natural gas will not fall. As a Washington Post column noted on the same day Harlan’s piece was published, the supply of renewable energy simply can’t meet the demand:

  • The technology does not exist today to allow a system to rely only on intermittent sources of energy such as wind and sunshine.

Instead of “large-scale investments in renewables,” that strong demand will be met by transporting natural gas across the country – including the Appalachian Trail – via rail or truck.

Pipelines are significantly safer than other means of transport (such as rail and trucks). As a Fraser Institute study found:

Both rail and pipelines are quite safe, but pipelines are without a doubt the safest way to transport oil and gas.

In every year from 2003 to 2013, pipelines experienced fewer occurrences per million barrels of oil equivalent transported than did rail. Overall in this period, rail experienced 0.227 occurrences per million barrels of oil equivalent transported compared to 0.049 for pipelines.

This means that rail is more than 4.5 times more likely to experience an occurrence.

Additionally, the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) concludes that pipelines “enable the safe movement of extraordinary quantities of energy products to industry and consumers, literally fueling our economy and way of life.” The PHMSA also says pipelines are “one of the safest and least costly ways to transport energy products.”

Not only are pipelines the safest method of transport, natural gas is providing a more environmentally friendly source of energy. A report commissioned by the Natural Gas Supply Association found “Over the past decade, there has been a significant reduction in the carbon intensity of the national electric supply, due in large part to an increase in gas-fired generation and a decrease in coal- fired generation. Similarly, despite the absence of a comprehensive national carbon policy or defined emission limits, emissions from the U.S. power sector have declined almost 20 percent since 2005, primarily driven by the shift to natural gas.”

The report concluded, “While natural gas produces some carbon emissions, these emissions are much lower than that released from even the newest and most advanced coal fired plant.”