Pipelines pledge emissions curbs as Biden targets fossil fuels

Trans Mountain construction Image: Kinder Morgan

America’s major natural gas pipeline owners committed to paring their carbon footprint and making their own operations emissions-free by 2050. The pledge falls short of covering the emissions of their customers – which can be vastly larger – but may help the industry ward off political attacks.

The promise from the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and its member companies – which operate some 200,000 of the 300,000 miles of transmission pipes crisscrossing the U.S. – is the latest industry pivot as Democrats take over the White House and Congress with vows to phase out fossil fuels.

It is the deepest climate commitment yet by the group, building on a 2018 pledge to keep a better lid on methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas. INGAA companies embracing the 2050 goal include Kinder Morgan Inc., Williams Cos. and Enbridge Inc.

The voluntary commitment applies to direct greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas transmission and storage facilities – such as leaks from pipelines, tanks and compressor stations – known as Scope 1 emissions. It also applies to so-called Scope 2 emissions, those generated from the energy INGAA companies consume as part of their transmission and storage operations.

It does not, however, go further to encompass Scope 3 gas emissions generated when the natural gas is burned to generate energy.

“One third of U.S. energy consumption travels through natural gas infrastructure today, and we don’t see that changing significantly in the foreseeable future,” INGAA president Amy Andryszak said by phone. The move is a recognition that natural gas plays an important role “in delivering affordable, reliable cleaner energy,” as well as “helping achieve overall, global climate goals,” Andryszak said.

The group’s chief new net-zero goal means its member companies are committed to abolish or fully offset emissions from the power they use and their storage and transmission operations. It is aligned with existing pledges by some pipeline operators, including Williams, Enbridge and DTE Midstream LLC.

It also dovetails with INGAA’s previous support for direct federal regulation of methane emissions from oil and gas wells – despite opposition from some other segments of the industry. Under former President Donald Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency abolished explicit limits on methane leaks from the oilfield.

Now that the Biden administration is preparing to reverse Trump’s move, the American Petroleum Institute and Chamber of Commerce have said they will back the approach.

INGAA’s pledge is part of a broader industry pitch to promote natural gas and fossil fuel infrastructure as an essential part of even a warming world –– not just enabling the transition to emission-free renewable power sources. Pipeline operators are highlighting how their equipment can be used to carry cleaner fuels –– including hydrogen-blended natural gas and renewable natural gas captured from landfills and hydrogen-blended natural gas.

“We view natural gas as a foundational fuel. It’s not a bridge fuel” and “isn’t something that we see going away,” said INGAA Vice President Sandra Snyder. “It’s so important to have natural gas available because we need fast-ramping power generation so that we have consistent and reliable service.”

INGAA’s new effort comes as President Joe Biden promises new policies to slash greenhouse gas emissions and aims to make U.S. electrical grid emissions-free by 2035. Without advances in carbon capture, that’s a potential death sentence for natural gas.

Environmentalists also have warned against building more natural gas pipelines and export facilities, arguing that those investments lock in longer use of the fossil fuel.

The association is not singling out specific technologies to help pare greenhouse gas emissions nor outlining explicit emissions-reductions benchmarks before 2050. But it is highlighting how greater energy storage can buttress renewable power. And it is looking more closely at the fuels carried inside its pipes –– including the potential for transporting new, lower-carbon fuels through existing or re-purposed infrastructure.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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