Memo to the Gas Industry: You’re Next

Lenin said capitalists would sell the rope with which they’d be hanged, which intersects Churchill’s famous definition that  “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” Both of these came to mind a couple years back when the news leaked out that Chesapeake Energy had secretly given $26 million to the Sierra Club to boost the Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign that was compelling many utilities to switch from coal to natural gas. It was a perfect example of a “bootleggers and Baptist” coalition against open markets.

I thought it was a stupid thing to do at the time, but the motivation was easy to understand.  I recall a natural gas company CEO asking me what happened to their market, which had seen gas prices fall from around $14 per thousand cubic feet in the early 2000s to around $3 by the end of the decade.

“The answer is simple,” I said; “You’ve been too successful in bringing lots of new gas to the market.” It is amazing how often the law of supply and demand eludes corporate executives almost as often as it does liberals. This is the reason a lot of gas-intensive utilities supported the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill in 2009, thinking the regulatory foot of government would tilt the playing field in their direction. This is short-sighted appeasement of the worst kind.

One of the many strengths of Michael Grunwald’s terrific piece in Politico today about the Sierra Club’s campaign to destroy coal is that once environmentalists succeed in strangling coal, they’ll go after natural gas next:

 “The Sierra Club wants to stop coal now?” Inhofe asked. “You’ll see, they’ll be after gas next.”

Long-term, he’s right.  While the Club accepted some donations from natural gas interests under Carl Pope, it is now formally committed to eliminating gas as well as coal by 2030, and it has helped block new gas plants in cities like Austin and Carlsbad, California. After its victory last week in Asheville, Beyond Coal vowed to keep fighting to overturn Duke Energy’s decision to build a new gas plant to replace its 50-year-old coal plant.

Memo to natural gas executive: You’re next. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.