Posted September 21, 2017
For a number of months we’ve been talking about the need for more efficient and predictable federal processes for the permitting of energy infrastructure – including new natural gas pipelines and added capacity. New, bipartisan legislation introduced this week in the U.S. Senate is latest move in that direction.
The bill co-authored by Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Angus King of Maine would increase certainty, transparency and efficiency in natural gas pipeline permitting at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It joins other legislative initiatives aimed at improving the natural gas pipeline permitting process so that the infrastructure construction our country needs can go forward.
Khary Cauthen, API Federal Relations senior director, said promoting certainty in natural gas pipeline permitting is a win for U.S. consumers and the environment:
“Maintaining and expanding our natural gas pipeline infrastructure will help increase the use of clean natural gas that has supported millions of jobs, lowered energy costs for consumers, and driven carbon emissions throughout the U.S. economy down to levels not seen in nearly 25 years. While FERC’s review process is robust and thorough, it isn’t always timely or efficient. This important legislation will help promote infrastructure projects across the country by encouraging greater coordination, transparency, efficiency, and certainty in the permit review process.”
Again, this latest bill is part of a broader effort to streamline and make more efficient the process by which natural gas pipelines gain federal approval. While FERC takes the lead in reviewing projects, other federal and state agencies participate and may have their own separate reviews. Often these multi-agency reviews are sequential and disjointed, causing unnecessary project delays. Inhofe's bill and others promote a model with “concurrent review,” where all reviewing agencies conduct their analyses simultaneously with FERC when possible.
Needed as well are provisions that make other reviewing agencies more accountable to FERC, the lead agency for the primary federal environmental review, whose review schedule often may be ignored by other agencies.
The permitting process also would be improved by providing for remote surveying – allowing permit applications to be submitted with data from aerial photos or other remote sensing technologies. Permit reviews could then proceed with provisional approval, conditioned on the submission of complete data before starting construction. This would address the current requirement to have full survey data submitted before an application can be filed.
All of these points are important to adding natural gas pipelines, which are needed to more fully harness America’s natural gas abundance. Pipelines connect production with consumers, businesses and manufacturers. They are critical to bringing the consumer and environmental benefits of natural gas to underserved parts of the country, such as New England, where customers pay more for natural gas and electricity generated by natural gas than other parts of the country – largely because the region needs more pipelines and capacity.
Consumer savings from increased use of natural gas throughout the economy – supported by more pipelines – could total $100 billion by 2040 or $655 per U.S. household, according to a recent study. The same study estimated natural gas’ lengthy supply chain, which reaches all 50 states, could grow from about 4 million non-agriculture jobs in 2015 to between 5.2 million and 5.9 million jobs by 2040.
Total added value from direct, indirect and induced activities and jobs throughout the economy could increase to more than $1 trillion in 2040, the study said. Meanwhile, increased use of natural gas also is primary to lowering U.S. carbon emissions from power generation, which today are as low as they’ve been in nearly three decades (chart). More natural gas pipelines and/or added capacity that foster wider use of cleaner-burning natural gas can help advance climate goals.
The Inhofe/King legislation is an important step toward strengthening U.S. natural gas pipeline infrastructure and more broadly spreading natural gas’ benefits across the country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.