Duke Energy’s massive expansion of fracked gas collides with climate science and the high-risk supply and pricing of fracked gas
Statement by Director Jim Warren:
Durham, NC – Watchdog nonprofit NC WARN today petitioned federal regulators to accept us as a party in the legal case over a 524-mile gas pipeline proposed by Duke Energy and Dominion Power that would pump natural gas from West Virginia’s fracking fields to power plants in North Carolina. The project is part of a major shift to make gas “the backbone” of Duke Energy’s future, according to CEO Lynn Good.
Ms. Good seems delusional about the prospects for fracked gas. Duke execs continue to ignore both the science showing natural gas being even worse for the climate than coal due to pervasive leakage of methane, and the economic revelations that the fracking boom was built on a bubble that’s already imploding.
We are pleased to join the numerous nonprofits, businesses and individuals in Virginia who have become parties in the case conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC has authority to rule whether the $5 billion pipeline is needed. If the pipeline is completed, Duke and partner Dominion Power would presumably seek permission from state utilities commissioners to force monopoly-captive customers to pay for the boondoggle.
Duke is currently seeking state and federal permission to acquire Piedmont Natural Gas for another $6 billion. That merger would bring Duke’s share of the pipeline to 50 percent.
NC WARN is also working with nonprofit allies and impacted communities to coordinate grassroots opposition to the pipeline. A summary of NC WARN’s three legal arguments:
- The growing reliance on fracked gas in North Carolina and nationwide will have a disastrous impact on the climate crisis due to the venting and leakage of methane throughout the U.S. natural gas industry. Although fracking gas has been described as a “bridge fuel” as electric utilities move to convert coal plants to natural gas, the environmental and societal damages of fracking, and the methane leakage from well head to burn point is devastating. Methane is now seen as having a much greater impact on climate change than carbon dioxide, some 86 – 100 times greater.
- Fracking gas is a risky investment in that it is not a reliable source of fuel and the current aberrantly low prices will not be maintained. Research shows that many of the U.S. shale plays are in or nearing decline. The potential for supply shortage leaves utility customers vulnerable to outages and price spikes. Duke Energy is proposing construction of 15 additional large natural gas plants over the next decade. The fracking gas from ACP would temporarily encourage the construction of new natural gas plants, leading to overcapacity and possible stranded costs, and therefore higher customer rates.
- Pipeline projects are becoming increasingly controversial because of methane’s contributions to the climate crisis, the financial risks for utility ratepayers, abuse of property rights along the route, and local air and water quality damage associated with fracking.
The use of natural gas is already speeding global warming because of methane’s global warming potential (up to 100 times that of carbon dioxide over the next decade) and a huge increase in methane leakage throughout the US natural gas industry.
In an affidavit filed in this case by NC WARN, Cornell University’s Dr. Robert Howarth states, “even small emissions of methane make the global warming consequences of using natural gas worse than coal.” He concludes “that natural gas – particularly as it comes increasingly from shale gas – is not a bridge fuel” and “that building new plants to produce electricity from natural gas is a disastrous strategy.”