Though it pains me like a gunshot wound to say, I may have been a bit hard on politicians lately. In reality, it’s probably fairer of me to say that they don’t all make babies cry, and that rabies is in reality quite rare among them. Going a step further, many are indeed quite likely drawn to politics by a sincere desire to make the world better. It’s not their fault if they didn’t know that the arena they’d be playing in is ankle deep in rats and shysters (this may be my last column if I’ve sufficiently offended the pro-rat movement, but one needs to walk the razor’s edge every now and then to feel alive).
It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. Some aspects are not easy either; no matter how vehemently I may disagree with some of their underlying philosophies, it’s hard to criticize any politician for or against the way they handled coronavirus. There is no rule book. Well, that’s not entirely correct; institutions like the World Health Organization have rule books, I suppose you could call them. They provide documents like “A checklist for pandemic influenza risk and impact management” that have chapter after chapter of useful info on preparing for an emergency, slowing the spread, health care planning strategies, etc. But as can be seen in this 34-page document, a single solitary page is dedicated to “Maintaining Essential Services and Recovery”. Now, that is a WHO document and therefore health-management-heavy, but it does not refer the user to anywhere else to deal with the economy at large so presumably, they think that is sufficient, and we find nuggets like this, that provide no follow up guidance: “Recovery from a pandemic will require an all-of-society collaboration between government, businesses, community organizations and the public.”
How’s that working out so far? The world is currently on fire; people are being burned at the stake for various thought crimes, and a generation of car-torching arts-degree/soft-science barbarians is trying to blow up anything put in place by Boomers. And this is all happening without considering coronavirus. Now with the actual incidence of a pandemic, it just gets that much worse, and there is invoked in the hearts of certain politicians a kind of unbelievably frantic soul-searching as to what are indeed essential services. While it didn’t take long to find a list of what was declared essential, over any timeframe longer than a season, that line begins to blur mightily. Many politicians have been caught speaking out of both sides of their mouths, loudly declaring certain industries to be troublesome and on the way out, and quietly declaring them to be critically important.
We all know who that refers to. Oil and natural gas production were, of course, deemed an essential service, but that designation brings up an interesting conundrum in certain power circles. How long is it an essential service for? Until coronavirus passes? And then what – back on the “death to fossil fuels” bandwagon? You sure about that?
Two recent pipeline announcements make clear the polar opposite opinions on the future value of the energy we rely on, particularly natural gas. Oddly enough, they both happened on a Sunday, not a normal day for news releases, but normal isn’t a word that applies to 2020.
First, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway announced a $9.7 billion acquisition of natural gas pipelines in the US from Dominion Energy. Second, Dominion Energy announced they were abandoning plans to build the Atlantic Coast pipeline, an $8 billion natural gas line that would have carried natural gas from West Virginia eastward to Virginia and North Carolina.
If those two parties were really quick at making really big decisions, we could surmise that both of them had light bulbs go on in their heads simultaneously on a Sunday morning – the realization that it is pretty much impossible to build a new pipeline in North America anymore. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline people had recently won a 7-2 supreme court ruling that vindicated the project and allowed them to proceed with construction, and yet even with that decision in their pocket they looked at the hordes of academic supremacists, professional alarmists, nihilists, and eco-socialists standing on the horizon, armed with signs and schoolchildren, and said Ah, to hell with it.
A third announcement pounds the final coffin nail home with a vengeance. The Dakota Access Pipeline, in operation since 2017, was ordered shut down over flaws in the original environmental review. Consider the staggering reach of this judgement – no longer is it just impossible to build a new pipeline, but the cold, grey, dead hands of anti-industrialists can reach back in time to have un-approved what has already been safely in operation for three years.
It is hard to fathom how Keystone XL will be built in this environment, sad to say. There’s no doubt TC Energy will be able to build 90 percent of it, but that last 10 percent might be a bit of a problem. Indeed, this week the US Supreme Court felled another tree on XL’s path by denying a key permit. It now seems only a matter of time before TC Energy says Ah, to hell with it also.
These developments are of course more than mildly problematic for energy security and electrical grid stability, but there is scant appetite for talk of such things these days. No one’s interested because they’ve all gone post-industrial and if those things are important to you, well, you’re just a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the world. Just try to bring those topics up in the greasy world of social media, and the key platforms will censor you, and mainstream media publications will pretend you don’t exist.
At the end of the day, cagey Mr. Buffett spotted the inexorable trend and capitalized on it while few others seem to fully grasp what’s happening. The days of pipeline construction, interstate or international (here in North America anyway), are pretty much over. Climate activists have honed their skills and now play the legal system like a violin; they believe they are The Force of Good and there is no stopping them. Buffett sized up the situation and realized, correctly, that existing infrastructure is going to be one of the most valuable commodities out there. In a world that banishes competition, who wouldn’t want to own the only pipelines in town?
Those celebrating the pipeline KOs shouldn’t get used to the euphoria; it is becoming challenging to build any infrastructure. New power lines are protested, as are wind and solar farms, and so is anything at all that makes one or more people feel uncomfortable, for any reason whatsoever. Proponents of grand schemes like the Green New Deal are going to find out what it’s like when they start staking out all those high-speed rail lines they want to build to connect everywhere from NYC to Boca Raton to Keokuk. They will begin eating each other like rats when they realize the impossibility of what they claim to be able to do, but by then Atlas will have Shrugged, at least in the energy world, and the world will learn a hard lesson.
If you are a fan of irony, consider this: Justin Trudeau, caught between his staunchly activist inner network and economic reality, was backed into a corner and almost forced to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline system and carry on with the expansion. For every day that goes by, more of the TMX gets built, and the more likely its successful completion seems to be.
We might, therefore, be in a situation where Justin Trudeau builds the last major oil pipeline in North America. Don’t try to make sense of it. Black is white, up is down, creators are legally subordinated to destroyers, feelings trump everything, grievances are the new constitution, and you can let your dog drive your car if you feel like it. Welcome to the roaring ‘20s.