Misdirected Outrage Over Yet Another Pipeline

David Fessler By David Fessler, Energy and Infrastructure Strategist, The Oxford Club

Oil & Gas

Have you noticed all the fights over pipelines lately?

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Mainstream America’s outrage is misdirected.

First, it was the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama dragged his feet for nearly seven years on that one. Thankfully, Trump reversed Obama’s executive order that blocked construction of the pipeline. It’s now waiting for approval from Nebraska.

Then it was the Dakota Access pipeline. Police had to forcibly remove protesters from the construction site.

The Dakota Access pipeline began commercial service on June 1, 2017. It moves crude from the Bakken shale in North Dakota to a storage and truck terminal hub near Patoka, Illinois.

Both the Dakota Access and the proposed Keystone XL are crude pipelines. I can understand the concerns over a leaking crude pipeline.

But the latest controversy is over a 600-mile underground natural gas pipeline. This means there’s even less cause for opposition.

The Atlantic Coast pipeline will start in Harrison County, West Virginia. From there, it will travel to Greensville County, Virginia. A branch will continue to Chesapeake, Virginia, and then travel south into North Carolina, where it will end in Robeson County. You can see the map below…

Dominion Energy (NYSE: D) is building the pipeline to meet increased gas demand in its territory. Increased industry, home heating customers and natural gas-fired power plants are all customers in need of more gas.

Along with Dominion, Piedmont Natural Gas, Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) and Southern Company Gas (NYSE: GAS) are all partners in the pipeline. Dominion’s ownership is 48%. Duke and Piedmont together own 47%. And Southern Company owns 5%.

The pipeline crosses about 2,900 private properties. It also travels through the Monongahela and George Washington national forests in West Virginia and Virginia, respectively.

Opponents of the pipeline claim Dominion will have to “decapitate” a number of mountaintops.

Dominion says not so. “We will not be removing mountaintops, period,” a spokesperson for the company told a local Virginia TV station.

There’s good reason to take Dominion for its word on this.

I live about 3 miles from part of the Appalachian Trail that runs on top of a ridge close to our farm. I’ve been hiking around there for years.

I went to go poke around the ridge after Williams Companies (NYSE: WMB) put in its interstate natural gas pipeline.

Much to my amazement, the top of the mountain was the same as it was before the pipeline was there. In fact, you wouldn’t even know there was a pipeline there except for a sign telling you so.

There was extensive care taken to prevent erosion, with no adverse issues with the land restoration. Wildflowers still grow all over the sides of the mountain.

So much for opponents’ grandstanding…

They’re the ones who say the region doesn’t need more natural gas. As evidence, they point to the fact that the pipeline has excess capacity.

I did a little digging. It turns out the pipeline’s full capacity is 1.5 billion cubic feet per day.

Right now, more than 92% of that capacity is secured by five utility companies with 20-year agreements.

Excess capacity? You have to be kidding.

I’m sure the remaining 8% will be gone by the time it’s in service…

Dominion plans to use much of its share to fuel two natural gas-fired generating plants. Duke Energy is going to do the same.

Dominion has a robust forecast for natural gas too. It believes the natural gas demand from Virginia and North Carolina will grow 165% over the next two decades.

Keeping up with that growing demand won’t be difficult. We have hundreds of years’ worth of the stuff.

It’s an important fact that pipeline opponents seem happy to ignore. You might want to bring it up the next time you find yourself engaged in a political “discussion” on the subject.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the other side will listen. At least you’ll know where the money is going.

Good investing,

Dave