The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission voted 3-1 in early February to approve an updated environmental impact statement to replace the aging Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. The replacement is necessary to preserve the surrounding environment and ensure the safe transport of crude oil. The commission’s approval was key for the pipeline’s developer, Enbridge, to move forward on obtaining the remaining necessary permits from both state and federal regulators.
The $2.6 billion project is key to modernizing the pipeline, built in the 1960s, with state-of-the-art technology that improves pipeline safety and efficiency. The company is showcasing its community stewardship by proactively engaging with the state on updating the dated line.
In an industry all too familiar with stranded assets, it is encouraging that Enbridge is prepared and eager to continue its investment in Line 3 and Minnesota at large.
Further, the Minnesota PUC’s decision is a step in the right direction for American energy infrastructure and should satisfy activists calling for environmental protections. The existing pipeline is aging, requires regular maintenance, and cannot operate at full capacity. By opposing the replacement of Line 3, environmentalists are actually undermining their own argument.
The new pipeline would ensure safe energy transportation throughout the region while dampening the dangers of truck and rail transport, which can manifest public safety hazards.
Also in February, a crude oil train derailed in Saskatchewan, igniting a large fire in the rural area. Nearly 400,000 gallons of oil leaked out of the train’s tanks, more than six times the amount that poured into the North Saskatchewan River from a Husky Energy pipeline leak in July 2016.
Not only do pipelines take the risk off our roads and rails, they do not emit hydrocarbons like their train and truck counterparts. Specifically, replacing rail transport with pipelines would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by between 61% to 77% for Line 3, as the University of Alberta reported in 2016. As of 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas and oil resources accounted for 67% of energy consumption in the U.S, meaning there are more environmental gains to be realized with pipelines.
All of these factors should garner support from environmentalists.
Beyond the line’s physical safety and environmental management, crude oil is a critical resource that will continue to be a cornerstone of American national security and serve as a key driver in the U.S. economy. In 2018, the United States consumed an average of about 20.5 million barrels of petroleum per day, and petroleum products accounted for about 92% of the total U.S. transportation sector energy use.
More importantly, the United States has made a sharp departure from the early 2000s rhetoric of American energy dependence from unpredictable foreign energy sources by recently recording a net petroleum exporter position in September 2019. Similarly, in November 2019, domestic daily oil production outpaced Saudi Arabia and Russia.
To support the ongoing successes of the American energy industry, public officials and industry members must collaborate to create a conducive environment for infrastructure investment and development. This means a willingness to acknowledge the merits of pipelines.
Sadly, Democratic presidential candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren have adopted a my-way-or-the-highway approach to banning fracking and the use of traditional energy sources without careful consideration of the devastating effects on the American economy and job market. The natural gas and oil industries support more than 10 million jobs, and politicians offer no feasible remedy for the newly unemployed.
To underestimate the importance of pipelines on the American energy industry is to ignore the value it has on hard-working industry and union members, the economy, and the U.S.’s role as the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas in the world.
Now that the Line 3 project has satisfied regulators, it is time to take action and modernize an important component of the nation’s energy network.
Craig Stevens is a former senior advisor to U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and is the spokesman for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (gainnow.org), a nonprofit coalition for infrastructure development. He works out of Washington, D.C., and he wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.