When Berkshire Hathaway in early July purchased 7,700 miles of natural gas pipelines owned by Va.-based Dominion Energy, the investment group handed the utility giant a new path forward to incorporate more renewable energy in its operations with a goal to generate 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045. The acquisition of Dominion’s pipe, which transports gas from the Marcellus and Utica basins, has added to Berkshire’s existing 16,000-mile pipeline network in a sure-fire bet that natural gas will be the primary bridge fuel for the next 50 years as coal takes its final bow.
The push to transform the fossil fuels industry is now a shove on steroids, no doubt accelerated by COVID-19. As more regulators and the forces behind them halt new-build pipeline projects, and oil and gas majors reinvent themselves, midstream finds itself at a crossroads to get on board or get off the track. Shareholders and investors are demanding it. But what might the nation’s energy infrastructure look like in a future without crude oil, natural gas or NGLs coursing through its veins?
The majority of U.S. gathering, transportation and distribution pipelines is primarily used for fuels, which includes everything from onshore and offshore crude oil and natural gas, to water, hydrogen, coal slurry, biofuels, NGLs, and other fluids. For Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork producer, sending renewable natural gas (RNG) flowing through pipelines has turned its industry upside down, and in a good way.
RNG comes from a variety of sources, including solid waste landfills, wastewater treatment plants, livestock farms, food production facilities, and organic waste management operations. It’s not a pleasant thought, but pigs produce more methane gas per pound of live weight than any other livestock. That’s a lot of greenhouse gases when you consider Smithfield manages millions of pigs every year. Smithfield in July partnered with Dominion to market that gas from the company’s capped lagoons that trap the methane. Dominion will siphon the methane from Smithfield’s anaerobic digesters and inject it into interstate pipelines to generate electricity. (You can read the tea leaves here.)
Tulsa-based Williams recently announced adding solar installations to power its natural gas assets, with sites under consideration in nine states. Will wind and solar farms soon become part of the midstream space? Whatever lies ahead, natural gas for the foreseeable future will enable the latest innovations that require electricity (a shout-out to Tesla), in addition to heating, cooking, vehicle fuels, manufacturing, industrial processes, and more. Transporting, processing and storing that gas will still require a midstream conduit. That is, until Elon Musk figures out how to SpaceX it right here at home.
Was this article helpful? Let us know your thoughts?