Editor’s note: Guest columnist Tommy Foltz, a long-time resident of Little Rock, is Executive Vice-President of the Houston-based Consumer Energy Alliance, which has a nationwide network of 400,000 individual consumers who support strong energy policies and economic growth.
Americans have known for years that their nation’s infrastructure is old and deteriorating. Everyday commutes over crumbling bridges and across bumpy roadways are frequent reminders, and infrastructure continues to be a hot-button issue with local, state, and federal legislators.
But while talk tends to center on transportation, weakening dams and even antiquated water systems, it rarely touches upon our electrical grid or our overloaded pipeline distribution network – a trend that even President Obama – someone not noted for his overwhelming support of oil, gas and pipelines (Keystone anyone?) – has said he wants to change.
“As long as I’m president, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure, and we’re going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people,” Obama said during a 2012 speech in Cushing, Okla., home to the largest oil storage facility in the world. “We don’t have to choose between one or the other, we can do both.”
We at Consumer Energy Alliance could not agree more, which is why we’ve launched the Energy Development & Jobs Alliance, an initiative, with offices in Little Rock, that will educate Americans about the importance of upgrading our nation’s energy infrastructure and pipeline network, and welcoming the economic benefits that come along with it, including jobs, tax revenue, school funding, and lower energy costs.
And considering that significant parts of our electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems date back to the 1880s, the sooner we act, the better. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) warns that permitting issues, weather events, and limited maintenance have led to more failures and power interruptions in recent years.
“While demand for electricity has remained level, the availability of energy in the form of electricity, natural gas, and oil will become a greater challenge after 2020 as the population increases,” the ASCE reported in its most recent Quadrennial report card, which gave the U.S. energy infrastructure a “D” grade.
“Although about 17,000 miles of additional high-voltage transmission lines and significant oil and gas pipelines are planned over the next five years, permitting and siting issues threaten their completion,” the report added.
By updating our pipeline infrastructure, we can also expand our ability to deliver oil and gas to consumers around the nation. Investing more in our energy infrastructure will also keep the lights on at home and block fuel and utility costs from skyrocketing. Remember, transporting oil and gas via pipelines is not only more economical and environmentally friendly than transporting by truck or rail, but it’s also far safer, the Fraser Institute says.
It will also help us further reduce our reliance on foreign oil and ensure that our pipeline systems – half of which were built before the 1970s, and much of that dating all the way back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt era – can adequately handle the record-setting quantities of oil and natural gas we’re now producing here at home.
To date, handling this increased production has been a struggle.
While the White House says we’ve added enough new pipelines over the last three years “to circle the earth,” we continue to have trouble getting these resources to the consumer – and we’re running out of storage capacity to make that happen. Expect it to get worse as our technology and drilling techniques improve and more oil and gas flood the system, worsening the bottleneck and slowing our country’s ability to further increase oil supplies.
And many anti-energy groups and politicians are actively targeting our pipelines and infrastructure as part of their misguided attempts to ween our nation off fossil energy. Meanwhile, they offer no legitimate alternative to meeting our long-term energy demand or ensuring that the economy created jobs and opportunity for future generations.
Thanks to a private sector that’s ready to step up and help, there are several ways we can alleviate our energy infrastructure woes. But all require confronting the opposition and their misleading fear tactics by supporting legislation and projects that promote, not discourage, energy infrastructure improvements – even if it’s in our backyard, or our neighbors’.
Now is the time for millions of silent visionaries to stand up and say “yes” to jobs, opportunity and reliability, and “no” to fear. With unemployment still uncomfortably high and our energy infrastructure aging frighteningly fast, we can’t afford to let the fears of a loud minority stand in the way of opportunity for the silent majority who believe, above all else, that an efficient energy system is a top priority for consumers.