See below for a letter from the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) folks to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, in which MVP attempts to rebut/minimize the climate change impacts of its fracked-natural-gas pipeline project. Here are the main points by MVP, followed by a short fact check on each.
- The company touts its “commitment to offset its operational greenhouse gas emissions for the next ten years.” That’s very disingenuous and misleading, though. For a thorough debunking, see The greenwashing of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which explains that this plan would “[pay] $150 million to … a coal company,” and that: “the greenwashing agreement only includes operational emissions of the pipeline, omitting all emissions produced by the drilling, storage and transportation of the gas — which are a lot. And it’s still a plan to pollute — the process described to capture the coal mine’s methane would release significant amounts of carbon dioxide. This does nothing to curtail the pipeline’s leakage of methane gas, a significantly more potent contributor to global warming. The $150 million would be wholly insufficient to actually cover the total methane leakage, from cradle to grave, of the ruinous project. Additionally, the offset program is limited to just 10 years of operational emissions, ignoring the 50+ years lifetime of the pipeline the developers claim.* The plan misleads the public, incentivizes greenhouse gas emissions and would reward a known polluter.” Brilliant, eh?
- MVP claims, “The increased use of natural gas has been instrumental in reducing U.S. carbon emissions.” That’s also very disingenuous and misleading, of course, given that natural gas is a fossil fuel which emits greenhouse gases – methane in the production, processing and transportation process; CO2 when it is combusted. Now, does natural gas emit less CO2 than coal? According to the US Energy Information Administration, bituminous and subbituminous coal – which are the main types of coal burned in U.S. power plants – emit just over 200 pounds of CO2 per million Btu. That’s about twice the 117 pounds of CO2 per million Btu emitted produced when natural gas is burned. So in terms of CO2, no doubt natural gas emits less CO2 per unit of energy than coal, BUT…natural gas also has the major problem of emitting the potent greenhouse gas known as methane. And, as Scientific American reports, “high rates of methane emissions from basins like the Permian erode the greenhouse gas reductions achieved when power companies swap coal for gas. A previous EDF study concluded that gas burned to generate electricity loses its climate benefits in the near term relative to coal when the leakage rate along the supply chain exceeds 2.7% of production.” So that’s not good, obviously (note: see here for more discussion of the methodology for calculating greenhouse gas emissions for natural gas infrastructure, as well as discussion of how “New Pipelines are Key to Production Growth” and “Pipelines enable the exploitation of oil and gas reserves, reduce the cost of doing so, and can lock in the use of oil and gas even as policies and markets shift toward zero-carbon sources“). Also note that there are other ways to generate electricity – solar and wind being the two biggest in the United States – that produce ZERO greenhouse gas emissions. Now, obviously, ZERO is a lot less than 117 pounds of CO2 per million Btu with natural gas, *plus* however much methane is emitted in the production and transportation of natural gas. So why not just switch directly to solar and wind – plus, of course, energy efficiency – instead of locking in yet ANOTHER fossil fuel (natural gas instead of coal) for ANOTHER several decades – decades we don’t have, given that we’re already very close to exceeding our entire “carbon budget” if we’re to have any hope of not completely frying the planet. Which means, of course, that building MORE fossil fuel infrastructure at this point is, to be blunt, completely insane. Seriously, it’s bonkers – the exact wrong thing to be doing, no matter how much the fossil fuel industry (in this case MVP) is desperate to wring every last penny in profit out of this environment-trashing industry.
- “Mountain Valley supports the science behind climate change and acknowledges the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” This is a clearly absurd claim, as the climate science is VERY clear that we can’t be building any more fossil fuel infrastructure at this point, and certainly not large and long-lasting fossil fuel infrastructure such as major new natural gas pipelines. That’s just bonkers, as noted above.
- MVP then proceeds to quibble over estimates that this project “will emit about the same amount of emissions equivalent to 26 U.S. coal plants or 19 million passenger vehicles per year.” Among other things, MVP tries to claim that estimates of methane’s global warming potential were “inflated” by Oil Change International and other environmental groups; that the entire methodology of estimating MVP’s greenhouse gas emissions is “a flawed concept” because people will continue to consume natural gas, whether MVP is built or not; that MVP is simply an “intermediary transporting a product”; blah blah blah. Oh and MVP reiterates its claim that it will achieve “carbon neutrality for operational emissions,” not mentioning methane and also not mentioning the C02 emitted in power plants, once the “intermediary” (MVP) delivers the gas to its customers. In short, all of these claims are misleading, exaggerated and/or flat-out false. In fact, even if methane’s global warming potential is “inflated” – and it doesn’t appear to be – it’s still a huge environmental problem, whether over 20 years, 50 years or 100 years. As for the concept that people will consume natural gas regardless of whether MVP is built or not, that seems to argue for MVP being unnecessary, which presumably the MVP folks don’t mean to argue. More importantly, though, what we need to be doing as rapidly as possible is moving to a 100% CLEAN energy economy, not locking in decades more of fossil fuel consumption, which is exactly what this pipeline would do. And again, that’s bonkers – no matter what disingenuous and misleading “arguments” MVP throws out there…