Tuesday, April 06, 2004

How Many Back Yards?
A colleague forwarded a report indicating that two proposed LNG import terminal projects have been cancelled or suspended, one in Maine and one in Northern California, due to strong local opposition.

There was a time when these projects would have been welcomed as valuable sources of jobs and local tax revenue. Today, even as we bemoan the offshoring of manufacturing jobs, it is clear that much of the country has adopted a distinctly post-industrial mindset toward any facilities that exude smoke and steam. That includes the infrastructure facilities upon which our lifestyles depend.

In contrast to the rather depleted state of our petroleum endowment, we still have sizable untapped resources of natural gas in North America. However, it is strictly verboten to drill into this gas if it happens to lie in places we value for their pristine appearance. The result is a growing reliance on imported natural gas.

That is a legitimate, values-based choice as far as it goes. Paradoxically, though, it is also apparently verboten to build facilities for importing gas from overseas. Having outsourced the production of the gas, do we now wish to outsource its importation, as well, perhaps to Mexico or Canada?

The inherent conflict between our insatiable appetite for things that consume energy and our recently-acquired sensibilities towards our surroundings is a slow-motion train wreck that has already begun. Americans usually prefer to solve our problems after they have reached crisis proportions, but in this case we need to be aware of how long it will take to respond, once we realize we have not built enough pipelines or LNG terminals, or drilled enough gas wells to keep the heat and lights on at a price we like.

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