The architecture of abundance: Building energy infrastructure
Energy supply issues have been nettlesome at least since the Nixon administration, often producing long gasoline lines, sluggish economic growth, dependence on unstable foreign regimes and even backlash at the ballot box. Most policy solutions — including government subsidies, exotic fuel mandates, even restructuring the Department of Energy — were all oriented around this scarcity paradigm.
That was then. Today, technological innovations like horizontal drilling, better seismic imaging and hydraulic fracturing have done what new laws and regulations never could. We now produce massive amounts of North American energy that will lower prices for consumers, create a domestic manufacturing renaissance and even influence geopolitical alignments.
Policymakers in the 1970s and ‘80s never envisioned “tight oil” or “shale gas.” Colossal energy reserves in places like Bakken in North Dakota, the Niobrara in Colorado, the Eagle-Ford in Texas, the Marcellus in Pennsylvania and the Utica in Ohio were unthinkable 10 years ago. Conventional wisdom insisted we were running out of oil and natural gas.
But energy scarcity was yesterday’s conundrum. Today, we face a new challenge: How to overcome government-imposed roadblocks to building the infrastructure and unleashing the innovation necessary to harness our new energy abundance.
Washington increased regulations during the 1970s and 1980s, when policymakers assumed energy supplies had peaked. Congress either created or greatly expanded the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act — to name a few. These statutes — while helping to institute critical environmental protections — also ushered in myriad complex rules and bureaucracies, and the accompanying permit requirements that now make building energy infrastructure so challenging. These laws also boosted the supply of environmental special interest groups by creating new opportunities to litigate and challenge infrastructure development.
As energy production grows across the United States, building the infrastructure to move these supplies to consumers is emerging as the real challenge of the 21st century.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, where I serve as chairman, is now addressing this issue. We are developing legislation to expedite the new architecture of abundance.
Modernizing the process for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to approve new or repurposed natural gas pipelines is a key component of this new architecture. Pipelines are a safe, efficient way to transport energy resources, and increased pipeline capacity is needed for our growing energy supplies to consumers and markets.
But bureaucratic red tape and special interest lawsuits often delay, or even kill, promising projects. We will put FERC on a shot clock, giving potential builders and investors a chance for quicker approval, producing jobs and lowering energy costs to consumers while preserving environmental protections from underlying statutes.
We also seek to modernize the nation’s electric transmission infrastructure, improving the process for siting and constructing new transmission lines. In doing so, we will respect the rights of states to police what crosses their borders.
The Keystone Pipeline debacle reveals that we must also rationalize the trans-border approval process. Other proposed international projects to increase North American energy independence should not face a similar fate. The maze of opportunities to delay the permitting process, and politicize it through studies and lawsuits, is unacceptable. It also endangers our relationship with our closest ally, Canada.
We need to encourage investment in U.S. energy infrastructure by implementing a transparent, modern and standardized permitting process for all energy projects that cross U.S. borders and bring certainty for modifications and changes in ownership to existing projects.
We must also continue robust oversight of the approval process for building liquefied natural gas and coal export terminals. By making it easier for the nation to use these abundant resources — as a source of domestic innovation as well as a strategic tool of diplomacy and geopolitical stability — will help create jobs, spur investments and improve our balance of trade.
We should reduce regulatory burdens for private sector risk-takers if they modify transportation vehicles — whether barges, locomotives or other large fleets — to run on natural gas, or other cleaner technologies. Despite the major benefits to the environment, many industries fear more stringent future regulations. Companies should have simpler processes as a reward for forward-thinking energy use, not face expensive risk because of complex regulations.
Today, we confront different perils than policymakers in the disco era. The need to manage energy policy centrally, as if we lived in an era of scarcity, has crumbled like the Berlin Wall.
Instead of holding on to outmoded laws and regulations, we need to build the new Architecture of Abundance to create jobs; power our economy, and lower prices to consumers.
PHOTO (Top): A Chesapeake Energy Corp. worker walks past stacks of drill pipe needed to tap oil and gas trapped deeply in rock like shale at a drilling site on the Eagle Ford shale near Crystal City, Texas, June 6, 2011. REUTERS/Anna Drive