Is the Bridge Collapsing on America’s Bridge Fuel?

It’s been said many times, especially by the industry who fracks it, that natural gas is a “bridge fuel.” And while natural gas beat out coal as a fuel source and helped bring down U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, it’s far from an emissions-free fuel source. During last year’s CNN climate change town hall, then-presidential candidate Julian Castro noted that while natural gas has served as a bridge fuel, “we’re coming to the end of the bridge.”

Castro’s statement may have been prescient as the cost of renewable energy keeps plummeting and natural gas infrastructure keeps getting derailed, investors and governments could likely begin to move on. As energy trade publication World Oil wrote,As countries intensify efforts to meet climate obligations, the fuel used for heating, cooking and power production is poised to lose out to solar, wind and private and public energy efficiency measures.”

Why This Matters: As the Denver Post reported earlier this year, “projections by the U.S. Energy Information Administration say electricity generated by renewable energy will surpass natural gas generation in  2045.” However, in the United States, how long we continue to rely on natural gas could largely depend on whether President Trump is reelected. If he is, he could lock us into decades of natural gas exports and extraction. If he loses, a Joe Biden presidency could greatly expedite the decline of the fuel in favor of renewable energy.

Worth The Investment?: What’s the longterm value of natural gas? As the Denver Post explained,

  • Renewable energy advocates and some economists warn that new natural gas plants could become the “stranded assets” coal plants have become. They say their value will decrease because of changes in technology and policies.

“If you are in 2020 considering building a new natural gas generation facility, you are assuming that you will be able to recover the cost of that plant over a 30-year or longer period of time,” said Dennis Wamsted, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. In 30 years, the change in the electricity generation market is going to be so vast that right now we probably can’t even foresee it.”

And as World Oil added,

  • More than 1,200 institutions managing over $14 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuels, up from 181 managing $50 billion five years ago, according to a report from Fossil Free, an international environmental movement.
  • In the U.S., environmental opposition helped boost the costs for the Atlantic Coast pipeline to almost double to $8 billion. This year, about $10 billion of gas pipeline projects in the U.S. got scrapped — even as gas enjoys political support from President Donald Trump’s administration.
  • European politicians are now debating whether to pursue the giant Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany — not for environmental reasons but thorny geopolitical ones. That debate also raises the question of whether the pipeline would be going ahead anyway if so many billions hadn’t already been invested.

While in the rich world activists and investors are using their successful anti-coal playbook against gas, it’s a different picture in the developing world that could be reliant on natural gas for their growing economies for decades to come.

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