Energy infrastructure investments vital to economic growth

Roads, bridges, high speed rail, airport modernization – when politicians promise to fix the nation’s “crumbling infrastructure” and put Americans to work building shovel-ready projects, transportation is usually at the top of the list. We all notice infrastructure needs when we drive over a pothole or get stuck in traffic back-ups caused by the latest bridge repair. But flipping a light switch, turning up the thermostat, gassing up the car – and, crucially, what we pay for these essentials – also rely on infrastructure. The difference is, updating energy transportation infrastructure promises major economic gains without costing a dime of consumers’ tax dollars.

More than 199,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines and 305,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines crisscross the United States. That may seem like a lot of pipeline capacity, but we actually need more. A lot more – and not just pipelines, but energy infrastructure investment across the board, including storage, processing, rail and maritime development.

{mosads}Domestic oil and natural gas production soared in the past decade, and it’s soared in areas our energy transportation grid wasn’t designed to accommodate. Prior to an energy resurgence that has made American the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas, the priority was to transport imported energy from the coasts to points inland. Now that production is surging in places like North Dakota and Pennsylvania, infrastructure needs have changed.

Updating energy infrastructure will keep energy moving efficiently, ensuring reliable access for homes and for businesses. Access to affordable energy gives U.S. manufacturers a competitive edge, reducing power and materials costs for producers of steel, chemicals, refined fuels, plastics, fertilizers and numerous other products. According to a recent study from the Boston Consulting Group, U.S. industrial electricity costs are 30-50 percent lower than those of our foreign competitors. American manufacturing costs are now 10 to 20 percent lower than those in Europe and could be 2 to 3 percent lower than China’s by 2018, bringing even more jobs back to American shores on top of the estimated 400,000 manufacturing jobs already supported by shale energy.

Greenhouse gas emissions are also dropping. Greater use of clean-burning natural gas for power generation has driven carbon emissions to the nation’s lowest levels in more than 20 years, making the United States the world leader in both reduction of emissions and production of oil and natural gas.

That’s the good news. The bad news is bureaucratic roadblocks impose costly infrastructure constraints in some parts of the country. New Englanders pay up to 53 percent more than the national average for electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Northeastern states are well-positioned to benefit from affordable natural gas produced in the nearby Marcellus shale — but not without pipelines. Unless the region invests in natural gas and electricity infrastructure, a study from the New England Coalition for Affordable Energy indicates higher energy costs could undermine the competitiveness of area businesses, costing the region 52,000 private sector jobs between 2016 and 2020.

Besides lowering energy costs for homes and businesses, infrastructure investment in and of itself boosts the economy. Essential infrastructure investments in just the oil and natural gas sector could spur up to $1.15 trillion in new private capital investment over the next 10 years, support 1.15 million new jobs and add $120 billion on average to national GDP.

Eighty percent of American voters support increased development of our national energy infrastructure. Pipelines, usually the most high profile kind of energy infrastructure, have a stellar safety record, transporting 16.2 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products at a safety rate of 99.999 percent, according to the latest data from the Pipeline Safety Excellence initiative.

Both House and Senate have passed bipartisan energy legislation that would make the pipeline permitting process more efficient. By moving the bill through conference and getting it to the president’s desk, Congress can achieve bipartisan progress toward affordable energy and job creation.

Energy companies are ready to invest in the infrastructure we need, and skilled construction workers are ready to build it. When candidates tout shovel-ready projects to boost the economy and give U.S.  manufacturers a competitive edge, energy infrastructure should be at the top of the list.

Rorick is API director of midstream and industry operations

The views expressed on the Congress Blog are the author’s own and not the views of The Hill.



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