With Congress almost certain to pass a bill revising or eliminating its longstanding ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, interstate natural gas pipelines are trying to insure that any bill does not include an amendment setting up a national commission which would examine the adequacy of current federal policies governing the siting of natural gas infrastructure.
Such an amendment is lurking in the background, being promoted by Reps. Tim Bishop (D NY) and Elijah E. Cummings (D MD) who call their bill (H.R. 6720) the Natural Gas Strategy Act.
“Placement of natural gas infrastructure should not be run like a deli counter, where it’s first come, first served,'” says Bishop, vice chair of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Cummings chairs that subcommittee, although the bill was referred to the Energy & Commerce Committee, which neither man sits on. That could complicate the bill’s movement forward. Rep. Rick Boucher (D VA), is chairman of the energy and air quality subcommittee in the Energy & Commerce Committee. He will be the major decision maker on the Natural Gas Strategy Act, if he keeps that position in 2009.
While passage of the Bishop/Cummings bill in 2008 is probably a long shot, its odds of passage would increase in 2009. INGAA opposes the bill. “Unfortunately, H.R. 6720 attempts to fix a process that isn’t broken,” says INGAA President Donald F. Santa, Jr. “The direction signaled by this legislation would be to turn the clock back decades to an era of excessive government regulation and energy shortages. Such a policy will not result in natural gas infrastructure getting built on a timely basis; rather, it will lead to delay, litigation, supply constraints and higher natural gas prices.”
Congress has shown interest in increasing natural gas supplies, both because of its role as a substitute feedstock to petroleum for factories and utilities and from an energy independence perspective – and because of its more favorable greenhouse gas profile. The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing the day the bill was introduced on July 31. The two events were apparently unconnected. But testimony that day highlighted potential increased demand for natural gas, from autos, for example. A Honda official was there flogging its Civic GX, the only car sold in the U.S. which uses compressed natural gas. Sales are between 500 1000 vehicles a year. Aubrey McClendon, chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corporation, the largest independent producer of natural gas in the U.S., was also at the hearing pleading for federal tax incentives to consumers who purchase CNG fueled vehicles.