New England and other cold weather areas need more energy pipelines
Hundreds of thousands of miles of oil and natural gas pipelines crisscross the United States, safely delivering the energy that fuels transportation, powers manufacturing and keeps the lights on at homes and businesses.
Beyond keeping affordable energy moving to homes, schools, hospitals and manufacturers, energy infrastructure plays an integral role in job creation, economic growth and the reliability of the electric grid.
The U.S. energy resurgence has added stability to world energy markets, putting downward pressure on prices and shielding Americans from overseas disruptions.
The United States leads the world in producing and refining oil and natural gas, but that wouldn’t mean much if we didn’t have infrastructure capacity to transport affordable energy throughout the nation.
Building pipelines and other infrastructure to keep pace with growing production could support up to 1,047,000 jobs each year on average through 2035.
Eighty-one percent of American voters support expanding U.S. energy infrastructure, no doubt driven by recognition of the economic benefits.
Less recognized is the role energy infrastructure plays in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon emissions from power generation have dipped to near 30-year lows due almost entirely to greater use of clean natural gas — delivered largely by pipeline.
Natural gas is now the leading source of power generation in the United States, and the clean fuel is prized in the power sector not only due to its affordability and environmental benefits but its reliability.
Reliability means the continued operation of the electric grid, and power plants that run on natural gas provide constantly running power and can quickly adjust to efficiently meet the changing power needs throughout the day.
That flexibility and other unique attributes make natural gas a fuel of choice to help ensure that customers are paying for efficient, responsive and affordable energy.
Then there’s the geographic diversity of the natural gas supply system. Providing for multiple flows in all directions across the country, the natural gas production and transportation network has helped to mitigate disruptions, such as construction, maintenance and even extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey.
When natural gas systems were shut down in the Houston area and large parts of the Gulf Coast due to the storm, the geographic diversity of natural gas operations kept supplies flowing and prices stable.
Whether it’s natural gas heading to the power plant or crude oil destined for the refinery and on to your gas tank, energy infrastructure ties it all together — safely. The most recent data show both liquid and natural gas pipelines deliver their products at a safety rate of 99.999 percent.
Government projections show we’ll need more natural gas and oil to meet energy demand in the coming decades, even if use of renewables increases significantly.
It’s no wonder a recent study shows that costs for the average American household could jump $4,550 in 2040 if the U.S. imposed drastic restrictions like halting production and blocking infrastructure construction.
On the other hand, the strength of U.S. natural gas and oil production helped households save an average $1,337 on utility bills and other energy-related expenses in 2015, while drivers saved over $550 at the pump alone.
With winter weather on the way, household energy expenses are particularly important, as regions with pipeline constraints know all too well.
Failure to approve needed infrastructure is a big factor impacting costs in the northeastern U.S., which is home to seven of the top 10 most expensive states for electricity costs.
Unless the region invests in energy infrastructure to connect it to nearby energy supplies, the region’s households and businesses could see an estimated $5.4 billion in higher energy costs by 2020, according to a study from the New England Coalition for Affordable Energy.
The choice seems pretty clear. When you peel away the politics and focus on the facts, pipelines are a win for jobs, consumer savings and energy reliability.
Robin Rorick is group director of mainstream operations at the American Petroleum Institute, the national trade association that represents all aspects of America's oil and natural gas industry. Readers may send their comments to API, 1220 L St NW, Washington, DC 20005.
In era of climate change, don't build unnecessary pipelines
The fossil fuel industry has been exceptionally influential this year, persuading a receptive Trump administration and Congress to give it weakened environmental and health regulations, expanded mining and drilling on public lands and greater use of coal-fired power plants.
Now it is using the impacts of hurricanes that lashed the Houston area and South Florida to argue for expanding its oil and gas pipelines to assure uninterrupted supplies.
Certainly, increased resiliency in energy infrastructure is desirable, but we must look also to the less visible but real damage caused by our addiction to fossil fuels.
What about those new pipelines? Massive storms can inflict serious damage on pipelines as well as on electric power grids and roads, as we saw in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Thus the oil and gas industry is wise to reassess the stability of current pipelines to assure adequate supplies of fuel during and after emergencies.
For the same reasons, every city in the nation should rethink the vulnerability of its infrastructure given forecasts of increased storm severity. Many of them already are doing so as they consider innovative urban design changes.
However, it is equally important to reconsider the viability of our entire energy system. Currently, about 80 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas.
In light of the well-documented risks of climate change, confirmed by the National Climate Assessment released last week, we need to move toward a more diversified set of energy sources.
Fortunately, that is indeed what many nations are doing, notwithstanding efforts by the fossil fuel industry to portray such actions falsely as harmful to jobs or economic growth. More than half of the electrical generating capacity the U.S. added to its grid last year came from renewable energy, as did nearly two-thirds of new global generating capacity. These developments reflect a remarkable transformation in energy technology.
We could be doing even better if the Trump administration would end its misguided actions to disguise the reality of climate change. It continues to suppress scientific research on climate change, block government scientists from speaking about it, and scrub federal agency websites of its mention.
The administration also promotes inefficient fossil fuel sources over clean energy. For example, Rick Perry’s Department of Energy is proposing a rule to increase subsidies for non-competitive and aging coal and nuclear power plants while arguing that subsidies for renewable energy ought to be curtailed.
DOE says that the rule enhances the “reliability and resiliency” of the power grid. But it does not, as a DOE study makes clear. Another nonpartisan study found that the rule could cost billions of dollars a year while benefiting relatively few companies with older power plants.
Two conclusions stand out.
One is that if the fossil fuel industry needs to build additional oil and gas pipelines to minimize loss of service during emergencies, it should do so. But federal and state governments also should insist that that the industry meet reasonable requirements to minimize environmental damage and risks to public health.
The second is that we should put such decisions into the context of credible climate forecasts and the imperative to turn our energy system in a different direction that will assure long-term public health, safety, and economic strength.
We will be reliant on oil and natural gas resources for a long time, particularly gasoline for transportation.
Even so, it would be smart to increase funding now for research on non-carbon energy technologies, promote them in a competitive marketplace, and reevaluate our infrastructure to assure its reliability in an uncertain future.
The sooner we recognize these challenges, the more time we have to get it right and to help minimize what could be enormous adverse impacts on the economy and society.
Michael E. Kraft is professor emeritus of political science and public and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Readers may write him at UWGB, 2420 Nicolet Dr., MAC B310, Green Bay, WI 54311 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.