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Natural gas and permitting reform are critical to a clean energy future

When charting our energy future, it’s critical to consider how past successes can be replicated to help us meet our energy, security, climate, and reliability goals. Natural gas must be part of a low-carbon energy future, and to serve growing end-user demand, both at home and abroad, more pipeline infrastructure will be needed.

As chair of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), and Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategic Development for The Williams Companies, Inc., I am keenly aware of the rhetoric used to paint natural gas and its infrastructure as obsolete and environmentally detrimental — but I am also keenly aware that rhetoric is false. In fact, over the course of the past decade, natural gas and its infrastructure have fundamentally reshaped the global energy landscape and enabled significant emissions reductions, both in the U.S. and around the world.

Environmental strides made in the U.S. over the past decade illustrate that point well. Since 2008, when the shale boom led to a surge in domestic energy production and the widespread adoption of natural gas for electricity generation, domestic emissions have fallen more than anywhere else in the world. Between 2005 and 2020, U.S. GHG emissions fell by 20 percent, according to Energy Information Administration.

In many regions, natural gas is already used to complement the deployment of renewable sources of energy and provides an on-demand fuel source that can easily be ramped up or down. Natural gas demand will become even more critical to ensuring electric reliability in the coming years as the U.S. increases its adoption of renewables.

In addition to the strides that the natural gas pipeline industry has enabled, our industry is taking strides of its own to further reduce emissions. INGAA released a set of climate commitments last year that outline the membership’s dedication to reaching net-zero GHG emissions from natural gas transmission and storage operations by no later than 2050. And through programs like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Natural Gas STAR or Methane Challenge programs, and partnerships with third-party groups like ONE Future, pipeline operators adopt new and innovative ways to minimize emissions from natural gas pipelines, compressor stations, and storage facilities. At INGAA, we are dedicated to operating at the highest safety and environmental standards and will continue to deliver on this promise.

But make no mistake — if we cannot reform energy permitting processes in this country, we will see the benefits of this valuable fuel disappear.

At present, many of our existing pipelines in the U.S. are running at capacity. Additional takeaway capacity is needed to help move natural gas from where it is produced to where it is consumed quickly, safely, and affordably, and will provide the opportunity to move future fuel sources, such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

New pipeline infrastructure is critical to advancing the energy and climate progress made over the past decade. But to build that infrastructure, we need a clear, consistent permitting process. Today, it can take several years for a new pipeline project to receive the necessary state and federal permits to begin construction. This has a chilling effect on investment in new pipelines, raising costs for consumers and slowing our progress to provide natural gas to end users, including right here in the United States.

Regulators and industry experts alike have agreed for decades that pipelines are the safest, most effective way to transport energy. And looking ahead to the future, pipelines will be called on yet again as we prepare to deliver next generation fuel sources like hydrogen.

Natural gas is a fuel of the future, not just in America, but across the globe. INGAA will continue to advocate for federal policies, laws, and regulations that support the timely development and operation of safe and reliable interstate natural gas transportation and storage infrastructure. By streamlining our permitting processes, we can unlock investment for new and improved natural gas infrastructure and provide cleaner, safer, and more reliable energy for generations to come.

Chad Zamarin is chair of the board for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America and senior vice president of corporate strategic development for The Williams Companies, Inc.

Tags domestic energy Greenhouse gas emissions Infrastructure permitting Natural gas natural gas pipeline permitting reform Pipeline transport pipelines Renewable energy transition renewables

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