Liquified natural gas (LNG) is a versatile and affordable source of energy that is increasingly abundant across America. An inability to bring much of this gas to market, however, stands between the country’s newfound resources and the communities who need it. To lower energy costs for consumers and untether the potential of the rail industry, the Trump administration should roll back the red tape that stops LNG from being hauled by rail.
America is enjoying natural gas boom, in large part due to the fracking oil bonanza of recent years. When oil is extracted from the ground, it is often accompanied with significant amounts of natural gas. But the roaring energy industry has outstripped pipeline capacity to bring both oil and gas to consumers. With no way to transport the natural gas, oil producers often resort to simply burning it off in a process known as ‘flaring’. When flaring isn’t possible, some companies have been forced to treat the valuable gas as waste and pay others to take it from them.
To take advantage of this otherwise-wasted resource, the Trump administration has proposed allowing gas in the form of LNG to be transported by rail. Rather than pushing gas through pipelines, it can be chilled into LNG and hauled across the country’s expansive web of railroads in specially-made cryogenic tanks. Moreover, new multi-purpose railroads can be laid at a fraction of the cost of pipelines.
Freeing up the natural gas industry stands to offer American consumers a wealth of savings. Increasing the supply in the market will help to push energy prices lower, particularly during the winter months when heating costs take their toll on households across the north of the country. Moreover, these savings won’t be frittered away by the cost of bringing the gas to market due to the lower price of rail transportation relative to constructing additional conventional pipelines.
Transporting LNG by rail is also attractive because it combines low-emission transport with a low-emission source of energy. LNG is significantly cleaner than its fossil fuel competitors and generates around 40% less greenhouse gasses than coal. Moreover, allowing the natural gas industry to use railroads would weaken its reliance on trucks and roads. Rail transport is approximately four times more energy efficient than hauling resources on the roads. And unlike the roads and highways that are publicly funded but subject to wear and tear by private LNG trucks, the majority of freight railroads are owned and maintained by private businesses.
Safety is a crucial issue, but it is imperative to put the risks in perspective. LNG has been transported by ships for decades with a stellar safety record. Similarly, increased attention to the risks of transporting crude oil by rail have prompted the railroad industry to enhance their precautions and safety procedures. Some 99.999% of all hazard materials transported by rail in America now arrive safely without incident.
Allowing natural gas producers to transport LNG on rail is a vote to support American consumers and workers. With due consideration of safety needs, the Trump administration should push ahead with its proposal to cut the red tape that is holding back the combination of two lower-emission industries.