The front page of the Boston Globe last week presented a powerful, timely and cautionary tale about two liquefied natural gas terminals that sit off the coast of Gloucester and Salem. Those terminals are the tangible reminder of a massive push undertaken by energy industry insiders to build such terminals. The intensity of that push, which began to build around 2002, becoming most intense during the 2004 to 2007 period and then petering out in the years since, contrasts sharply with the reality described in the Globe article: that those two offshore terminals have sat idle for the last two years.
That push to build LNG import facilities, which was such a mania in energy industry circles circa 2005, yielded some crazy ideas, like the proposal to hollow out a Boston Harbor Island and the infamous Weavers Cove project in Fall River. The offshore terminals, while the least bad of those proposals, reflected short sighted thinking detached from careful regional planning. Both in terms of the need for these facilities and design decisions like regulators not forcing the projects to share one pipeline to shore instead of (as they did) twice disturbing the marine environment to build two duplicative pieces of infrastructure.
Today, the hue and cry is no longer about LNG, instead we are bombarded with impassioned demands for more natural gas pipelines as well as more measured discussions of the need for “smart expansions”. Will we have the collective intelligence to be smarter and more careful this time? Will the permitting process force consideration, as the law requires, of alternatives that make better use of existing infrastructure and pose less risk to the environment and the wallets of customers? Fixing natural gas leaks and becoming much more efficient in our use of gas is a key “supply strategy” that needs to be on the table and fully examined before committing to new pipelines.
And as it so often is, the overarching issue here is protecting future generations by addressing the climate issue. Science and prudent energy analysis, makes it clear that we need to put ourselves on a trajectory to end the burning of fossil fuels, including natural gas by the middle of this century. Given this reality every proposal to build massive and long-lived facilities to import more of those fuels must be viewed with great skepticism.