It is not enough that the environmental community has the Dakota Access Pipeline ensnarled in protests and government quagmire, but now the environmentalists are going after the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana. The Bayou Bridge pipeline would connect the existing portion of the Dakota Access pipeline to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas. The extension, proposed in 2015, is planned to span 163 miles between Lake Charles and St. James in Louisiana. About 88 percent of the pipeline will parallel existing infrastructure (e.g. other pipelines, power lines and roads). Construction could begin as early as March 2017, but the project has not received the required permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Once approved and constructed, the pipeline would move about 280,000 barrels of oil per day and bring in 2,500 temporary jobs and 12 permanent jobs. The pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, is committed to restoring 100 percent of any affected area at the company’s own expense if there are any impacts from construction or during long-term operations.[i]
Pipelines Safer than Rail
According to a Frasier Institute study, both rail and pipeline transport are quite safe, but pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and natural gas. In every year from 2003 to 2013, pipelines experienced fewer occurrences per million barrels of oil equivalent transported than did rail. During this period, rail experienced 0.227 occurrences per million barrels of oil equivalent transported compared to 0.049 for pipelines. That means rail transport of oil is 4.6 times more likely to experience an accident than pipelines. The study also notes that 99 percent of pipeline accidents from 2003 to 2013 did not damage the environment.[ii]
Rail will be used instead of pipeline transport if pipelines are not built. According to the Energy Information Administration, oil moved by rail in the United States totaled almost 24 million barrels in 2010. However, by 2015, that number reached almost 319 million barrels of oil—a factor of 13.
Because pipelines do not burn fossil fuels, they are considered cleaner and more environmentally safe than rail transport.
Denying Pipeline Projects
A new report by the Consumer Energy Alliance indicates that the lack of expansion in pipeline infrastructure and the loss of other energy generation options could result in an electricity shortfall of 31 percent in the United States by 2030 and an increase in energy prices, disproportionately affecting Americans living on a fixed income or below the poverty line.[iii]
The Consumer Energy Alliance constructed a scenario from the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2016 reference case that included the Clean Power Plan. The Alliance assumed natural gas generation would remain at 2015 levels due to a lack of approval for pipeline projects, electricity generation from coal and oil would be curtailed, all nuclear relicensing requests would be denied and recently announced nuclear plant closures would be completed by 2030. The report found that the United States would lose 1,450 billion kilowatt hours, which is an amount equal to the generation needs of California, Florida, New York, Texas, Ohio and New England.
This shortfall would hurt jobs in manufacturing, energy, transportation, mining, agriculture and other industries, and could result in a loss of over $15.38 billion in private capital expenditures and economic development due to the halt in construction of oil and natural gas pipelines. It would also endanger the nation’s national security by abandoning 3.17 million barrels of oil per day due to planned petroleum pipeline stoppages–the amount of oil that the United States imported in 2015 from OPEC and Russia.
The analysis shows that the Northern Plains region would experience the largest electricity shortfall at 46 percent, followed by the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic with a 44.8 percent shortfall and the loss of 20 proposed pipeline projects. The Southeast region would see a 29 percent electricity shortfall, even if wind and solar generation expand by a factor of 37 percent by 2030, as EIA projects. The Southern Plains region, including Texas, would see electricity shortfalls of 23 and 13 percent, respectively, even with huge, projected increases in wind and solar energy generation from federal estimates by EIA. The New England region is projected to lose an additional 30 percent of its electric generation capacity by 2020. New England would experience an additional 9.5 percent shortfall on top of its current energy deficits. This shortfall, would occur even if local renewable power capacity increased by 300 percent, as projected by EIA. The result would be additional price increases for a region that already has the highest average electric rates in the contiguous United States.[iv]
While this may be an extreme scenario, it indicates that the United States is still very dependent on oil and natural gas and that renewable energy and efficiency have made only a minor dent in supplying our energy needs, even with the assumed implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Further, intermittent wind and solar energy cannot replace reliable baseload power, which is forced to shutter in this scenario.
It is unrealistic to think that moving oil and natural gas is not necessary when they together supply 66 percent of our energy needs today and are expected to supply 67 percent in 2040, according to EIA forecasts.
There are a number of pipeline projects waiting for federal approval. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lists 22 major onshore pipeline projects from 2016 to the present that have been pending and awaiting approval from the commission.
Data show that pipelines are the safest mode to transport oil and natural gas. Despite that, environmentalists and the Obama Administration are delaying and/or forgoing proposed pipeline projects. The result will be higher energy prices, less energy security, and the potential loss of generation, all of which will hurt those at the poverty level the most.
[i] RT, After Dakota Access victory, protesters take aim at Louisiana pipeline, January 16, 2017, https://www.rt.com/usa/373881-bayou-bridge-pipeline-protests/
[ii] Frasier Institute, Pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and gas, https://www.fraserinstitute.org/article/pipelines-are-safest-way-transport-oil-and-gas and https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/safety-in-the-transportation-of-oil-and-gas-pipelines-or-rail-rev2.pdf
[iii] Daily Energy Insider, Consumer Energy Alliance report details consequences of denying pipeline projects, January 16, 2017, https://dailyenergyinsider.com/news/2942-consumer-energy-alliance-report-details-consequences-denying-pipeline-projects/
[iv] Consumer Energy Alliance, Report: U.S. Will Lose One-Third of its Electricity Generation Capacity Without More Infrastructure, January 16, 2017, http://consumerenergyalliance.org/2017/01/report-u-s-will-lose-one-third-electricity-generation-capacity-without-infrastructure/ and http://consumerenergyalliance.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/CEA_Pipelines_Report-011617.pdf