Energy and Infrastructure Offer Common Ground

Energy and Infrastructure Offer Common Ground
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

Listening to the national debate, it is easy to assume the country is divided over energy issues with little common ground between opposing camps. Conventional wisdom suggests you can either support fossil fuels or renewables, but not both. To hear activists at the far sides of the issue tell it, such as perceptions are as good as gospel.

But is that really how most Americans feel? 

Pay a visit to regions once considered America’s Rust Belt — states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, which experienced an 85 percent increase in shale gas production in the last five years. Workers there will likely talk about the revitalization of their communities occurring on the shoulders of oil and gas production. Stop into a local diner in North Dakota or West Virginia — places often written off as fly-over states. You will see the impact of eight and 13 consecutive years of natural gas production gains, respectively: new schools and hospitals funded by increased tax revenues; businesses bustling with renewed demand for goods and services; and laborers from across the country drawn in by good jobs. 

Talk with leaders in the environmental community. Even the most fervent opponents of so-called “big oil” will have a hard time dismissing the benefits oil and natural gas continue to deliver. Last year, carbon dioxide levels were 18 percent below 2008 projections, thanks to increased reliance on natural gas. Meanwhile, ozone emissions have dropped to levels of the 1980s, even as U.S. manufacturing and production have steadily increased.

During his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama called natural gas a “bridge fuel” that will “power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” Sensible policies and smart investment have proven his words true. Thirty-five percent of electrical generation is powered by natural gas today, and oil and gas continue to provide the necessary cover to bring online alternative options, such solar and wind — both of which have increased significantly in recent years.

Shale development here at home has dealt policymakers a strong hand on the global geopolitical stage. Bullish and bearish projections alike expect the United States to become a net energy exporter within the next 10 years, as petroleum imports fall and domestic production increases. Even if pinpoint projections on U.S. energy exports don't materialize, the trend is clearly in the right direction. In addition to supporting American energy supplies of all fuels, these conditions position U.S. leaders to support our allies overseas, cut cash flows to countries rich in oil but weak on stopping terrorism, and bring competitors to the negotiating table on climate change.  

Even in Washington — where gridlock and partisanship have become the default — broad consensus has emerged around the urgent need to modernize the United States’ energy infrastructure. Just last week Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, introduced the Energy and Natural Resources Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at strengthening the country’s aging energy networks. 

Infrastructure is a critical aspect of the United States’ energy portfolio. Simply put, policymakers cannot afford to push the issue down the road. As the country’s production economies have changed, so must the systems necessary to move those products to market safely and effectively. Leaders in both parties have long stressed the immediate need to begin repairing, rebuilding, and expanding these networks. And with President Trump’s explicit support, they now have every advantage to pass a comprehensive package.

The private sector is lined up to help shoulder responsibility, with industry leaders already breaking ground on projects imperative to continued energy development. Williams Partners, for example, began construction of its Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in March, which will carry natural gas from Pennsylvania to mid-Atlantic and southeastern states. Spectra Energy is pursuing construction of the Nexus Pipeline to deliver natural gas to the Midwest. And Energy Transfer Partners completed the Dakota Access Pipeline this year, which is now transporting Bakken crude oil to markets throughout the Midwest. Its Rover Pipeline in Ohio is expected to be partially operational by July, connecting production in the Marcellus and Utica Reserves to consumers across the Mid-Atlantic region. And the Mariner East II Pipeline will begin moving natural gas liquids throughout western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio this fall. 

Investors are recognizing this good work. In May, the Wall Street Journal reported that investors plowed more than $460 million into funds banking on America’s energy sectors this year, amounting to more than $16 billion in investment. If they’re right — and there’s every reason to believe they will be — not only will shareholders profit, every sector of the economy will benefit as well. 

Of course, there will always be some stalwarts who will be satisfied with nothing less than the total collapse of the oil and gas industry. This small but vocal minority conveniently ignores the real benefits production is already delivering from Main Street to Wall Street. Incidents that arise in the normal operation of drilling and transportation will be heralded to turn public opinion. As in any industry, there is inherent risk in energy production. But mishaps should serve to bolster protections and improve response protocols, not walk back efforts to meet our country’s needs.

Americans are not divided on energy issues. On the contrary, there is consensus around the imperative to invest in the United States’ energy infrastructure. With strong leadership in Washington and groundwork to further bolster public-private partnerships, America is on the cusp of securing its energy future for generations to come.

Mr. Caruso is a senior advisor for energy and national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served as administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration from 2002 to 2008.

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