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Pipeline paralysis: The left’s latest fossil fuel obstruction tactic


The U.S. economy is growing, in part because of a booming energy industry. Yet, not everyone is pleased and some are looking for and finding ways to throttle fossil fuel production. 

U.S. crude oil production is growing by leaps and bounds, topping out at 11.7 million barrels per day in November — about twice what it was in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). And the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects the U.S. will account for about 75 percent of the growth in global oil production over the next six years.

{mosads}But the energy boom also creates a challenge. Oil is often extracted in barren areas, like Texas’s Permian Basin, and must be transported hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to refineries for processing or to ports for export. The cheapest and most efficient way to do that is through pipelines.

There are currently about 72,000 miles of crude oil pipelines in the U.S. and about 300,000 miles of natural gas pipelines. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not enough.

The fracking boom is allowing producers to extract crude oil and natural gas from new areas that may not have ready access to existing pipelines.

Oil producers can and have turned to rail to transport the oil. But the better option is to lay new pipelines, which are made of high-grade steel and infused with state-of-the-art technology that allows constant monitoring. 

Fortunately, the Trump administration has indicated it recognizes the pipeline shortage and plans to begin addressing the need next year.

The Hill recently quoted White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, “We need infrastructure, including pipelines,” adding, “We need [pipelines] east to west, we need west to east.” Kudlow’s right.

But there will be resistance. The anti-fossil fuel squads see pipeline resistance as the most expedient way to hamstring the fossil fuel industry. They have had limited success in passing anti-fracking laws through the states — only New York, Vermont and Maryland have done so.

Other tactics have also fallen short. In the recent election Colorado voters weighed in on an initiative that would have significantly increased the distance between a new well and any occupied buildings, effectively stopping new drilling. Voters defeated the initiative. 

But pipeline challenges can be pushed through the courts, where the left historically has had greater success imposing its agenda. 

Take, for example, the recent Keystone XL pipeline ruling by federal Judge Brian Morris of the District Court for the District of Montana. Morris blocked further work on the XL, claiming the Trump administration’s approval of it was incomplete.

You may have thought that issue was settled — and it was. President Obama quashed the pipeline application in November, of 2015, so that he could go to the Paris Climate meeting that December and claim the U.S. was leading the way in cutting back on fossil fuel reliance. 

Last year President Trump overruled Obama’s denial of the XL pipeline and let the privately funded infrastructure project move forward.

Morris criticized the administration for ignoring climate change concerns and claimed the State Department “didn’t properly account for factors such as low oil prices, the cumulative impacts of greenhouse gases from Keystone and the Alberta Clipper pipeline, and the risk of oil spills,” according to reporting in The Hill.

But the State Department is the agency with the experts charged with making the assessment, and it did so, twice under the Obama administration, releasing its final report in 2014. The State Department concluded the Keystone XL pipeline would not have a major climate change impact. In addition, regulators in Nebraska, the state most likely affected by the pipeline, approved the project in 2017.

Even then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated she was inclined to approve the pipeline, until she realized doing so would damage her presidential aspirations among the green crowd.

Perhaps the most ridiculous notion coming from the judge is that State didn’t account for low prices. Does the judge know how much oil will be selling for in a few years?

Oil prices have been declining recently, but only after reaching highs not seen in several years. Trump’s newly imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports, once fully implemented, may send oil prices skyrocketing again.

The importance of fossil fuel production to the U.S. economy and to national security cannot be overstated. Having mostly failed at the ballot box, fossil fuel opponents are increasingly turning to pipeline obstruction, either by protests (e.g., the Dakota Access pipeline) or the courts, or both. It’s one more way of imposing their will on voters rather than the other way around.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags Donald Trump Energy Hillary Clinton Keystone XL pipeline Merrill Matthews pipelines

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