The global pace of new oil and gas pipeline construction has tripled in less than two decades, a multi-billion- dollar boom in infrastructure that experts warned Thursday could torpedo hopes for limiting global warming.
In the first worldwide survey of its kind, the Global Fossil Infrastructure Tracker identified a potential investor bubble ready to burst as renewable energy prices plummet and climate regulations begin to bite.
It paints a picture of fossil fuel companies rushing to complete projects in order to lock countries and investors into oil and gas use for decades, even as calls for drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions grow louder.
“Everyone knows there’s a drilling boom in North America — but they don’t look at the infrastructure,” said Ted Nace, executive director of Global Energy Monitor, a network of fossil fuel industry trackers.
“When you drill a well you have it for a year or two, but building infrastructure is building things that are going to be around for 40 or 50 years,” he told AFP.
The analysis — which used open-source data to map hundreds of new delivery plans around the world — found that fully a third of more than 180,000 kilometres (110,000 miles) of oil and gas pipelines in development were in North America.
By the metric of overall number of projects, 51.5 percent were planned for the continent.
The accelerated rate of new pipeline construction echoes the recent US coal-mining crash, which saw investors left on the hook after American coal prices cratered due to a rapid increase in the domestic production of coal in China, once a major client.
Nace said that the changing costs of energy production should make investors think twice before putting their money in fossil fuel infrastructure.
“The idea is you will pick up natural gas and oil in America, ship it across the sea and they will (in Asia) be using that in their power plants instead of their own coal and instead of their renewables,” he said.
“That’s where it gets a little questionable. Those economics are changing really quickly.”