Companies decry ‘valve turners’ who shut down pipelines

Associated Press published an article on“valve-turning,” an increasingly popular protest tactic activists have incorporated into their playbook. In addition to being illegal, federal regulators have warned that tampering with pipeline valves can result in “death, injury, and economic and environmental harm.” The article references four activists who were arrested last month after targeting an Enbridge pipeline in Minnesota, and the threats posed by these actions:

But pipeline companies say so-called valve turners are dangerous — to themselves and the public — and many energy industry officials and advocates say they should be treated as domestic terrorists. Several states are considering increasing fines and prison terms for such incidents and holding associated organizations legally accountable as well.

GAIN spokesman Craig Stevens is featured in the article, joining other industry experts in calls for an end to this risky and illegal tactic, arguing “What eco-extremists fail to recognize is that their own reckless actions risk seriously harming the same environment that they claim to be trying to protect.”

Many believe the law doesn’t go far enough when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure like our pipelines. Critics of current laws believe penalties are not adequate to deter such tactics – and a number of states have taken this matter into their own hands. The AP article describes these efforts:

The American Legislative Exchange Council has created a model bill that carries stiff penalties for protest incidents targeting “critical infrastructure” such as pipelines. It’s inspired by a 2017 Oklahoma law that carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. 

Louisiana last year passed a law similar to the model, and the legislatures in North Dakota , Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi and Indiana are considering similar bills this year, according to Grant Kidwell, the council’s energy policy expert. A proposal in the Wyoming Legislature failed to pass.

While there will always be a need for open dialogue regarding our energy industry, it’s clear that trespass and vandalism are not effective forms of protest.

North Dakota tribes continue to make accusations against US Army Corps of Engineers

The tribes in North Dakota are back at it again – they picked up where they left off in their crusade against the Dakota Access Pipeline with new allegations this past week. The Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Yankton and Oglala Sioux tribes have accused the US Army Corps of Engineers – a reputable, nonpartisan government agency tasked with building and maintaining America’s infrastructure – of withholding documents that suggest the Corps disregarded a federal judge’s order to review the pipeline’s potential impact on the tribes.

There is no reason for a professional organization consisting of career experts and engineers to disregard potential issues regarding DAPL. As detailed on its website, the Corps utilizes “environmental sustainability as a guiding principle” and works “diligently to strengthen our Nation’s security by building and maintaining America’s infrastructure and providing military facilities where our servicemembers train, work and live.”

Despite years of regulatory review as well as continued study on the potential effects of the pipeline, the tribes refuse to accept that Dakota Access does not unfairly impact them. After numerous legal challenges and the recent baseless allegations against the Army Corps of Engineers, it is clear they are ignoring facts and government officials and will instead continue to promote biased rhetoric based in the DAPL protests.

For over a year and a half, the pipeline has been safely carrying more than 500,000 barrels of crude oil each day to consumer markets across the US. It’s time to recognize the important contributions DAPL provides to both North Dakota’s economy and the US energy industry moving forward.

Op-ed: “No tolerance for eco-terrorism”

The Virginian-Pilot published an op-ed by GAIN strategic adviser James “Spider” Marks calling for an end to unlawful and dangerous protest tactics known as ‘eco-terrorism.’ Marks points to an incident that occurred just earlier this month in Virginia at a Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site, where anti-fossl fuel activists are suspected of lighting equipment on fire that led to half a million dollars’ worth of damage. Marks notes this dissent is troubling, and unfortunately becoming the new normal, as he writes:

In recent years this kind of radical activism, which was once universally condemned, has become an accepted form of protest. All the while, public tolerance for such guerilla-style tactics has become more callous and calcified by a mounting regularity of attacks, celebrity endorsement and some lawmakers’ willingness to turn a blind eye.

Make no mistake: There should be no room for these acts of violence and eco-terrorism. Public leaders should call them out. Vandalism of our nation’s energy infrastructure puts communities and the environment in danger. Far from achieving some noble cause, this senseless destruction sows fear, puts law enforcement in danger and undermines the security of networks critical to our daily lives. This behavior simply defies logic.

Activists continue to disregard impressive pipeline safety records – instead opting to promote ideological rhetoric rather than fact. Regulators and developers have worked closely together to ensure safe completion and operation of pipelines in order to meet the growing energy needs of American consumers.

In conclusion, Marks contends these protest tactics have real ramifications on our way of life. He concludes that peaceful demonstrations will always have an important place in our country – but our leaders must take a stand against extremist tactics that could cause physical harm or undermine our energy infrastructure. He writes:

Eco-terrorists’ tactics are not without consequence. They have caused millions of dollars in damages and stirred anxiety in our communities. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests alone cost the state of North Dakota $38 million for law enforcement and clean-up efforts. With the help of grandstanding politicians focused on scoring quick partisan points rather than finding reasonable transportation solutions for energy products, activists have succeeded in delaying, disrupting and often derailing important infrastructure projects across the country.

Even beyond the monetary costs, the lost jobs and the burdens on businesses and families, eco-terrorists’ actions reach further still. Their destruction has emboldened radicals who enact senseless tragedy. Nowhere else in society are tactics of sabotage and aggression condoned. All too frequently, however, environmental extremists are given a pass.

Op-ed: “In Light of Tragedy, U.S. Can Bolster Latin American Infrastructure”

Morning Consult recently featured an opinion piece by GAIN strategic adviser Brigham McCown underscoring infrastructure deficiencies in Latin America and calling for the US to play a bigger role in responsible development. In emphasizing the lack of reliable infrastructure in the region, McCown points to a recent pipeline explosion that tragically killed more than 100 people in Mexico. As an energy-rich nation with extensive experience in infrastructure development, the United States is uniquely positioned to help our Latin American neighbors by investing through public-private partnerships.

McCown notes that Latin America spends the second-smallest share of GDP on infrastructure compared to any region in the world – and it’s starting to show. Despite the need for investment in infrastructure in the region, the US has tapered its involvement while China has scaled up investment in countries from Mexico to Argentina. It seems China is setting up camp right in our backyard. Regarding this, McCown writes:

Through Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the communist government is paying for new roads, telecommunications equipment and energy systems in Latin America — not to mention a $50 million satellite and space mission station in Patagonia. The plan provides a path to increase trading opportunities between China and the region and is loaded with foreign policy implications and geopolitical advantages.

China is establishing stronger diplomatic ties in the western hemisphere while America’s influence is waning, defined more by wall-building rhetoric than opportunities for partnership and investment. Though diplomats say the United States is Latin America’s preferred investor, we’re just not offering the same support that the Chinese government is. Standing on the sidelines as China makes inroads in Latin America will complicate already growing tensions, threatening U.S. national security and foreign relations at many levels.

McCown concludes by arguing the US should play a key role in helping Latin America build out their pipelines and power grids – rather than other forms of largely undirected aid. He points out, “Over the last two years, the United States has given nearly $1.3 billion to Central America, largely to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. It’s time to include more-tangible infrastructure investments in our foreign aid plans with these countries.” Through public-private partnerships and sharing decades of experience in energy infrastructure development, the US can do its part. McCown writes:

Gaining access to more-affordable energy could greatly improve business activity and the overall quality of life in underdeveloped communities. Such important infrastructure updates have the potential to lift the working class and provide long-term economic revival in some of the most underserved regions in Latin America, while also providing important trade and other economic opportunities for the United States.

American leaders and private businesses have the unique opportunity to work together with their counterparts in Latin America to help modernize their critical infrastructure networks. With the resources and experience to provide these improvements, the United States should play a leading role in Latin American infrastructure investment and eagerly extend a helping hand to our neighbors in need.

Op-ed: With a Democratic majority in the House, infrastructure must remain key priority

Earlier today, The Hill published an op-ed by former Congressman Charlie Melancon of Louisiana calling on Congress to develop a comprehensive infrastructure plan in 2019. Rep. Melancon argues that in a time when partisan politics are seemingly at a record high – Democrats and Republicans can come together on at least one thing: infrastructure. He emphasizes the importance of further development in the US, noting that fourteen million Americans have jobs directly related to infrastructure.

Despite the bipartisan benefits of investment in our critical infrastructure, Melancon points out that there are still fringe groups opposing infrastructure advancement and modernization. He writes:

It’s clear that infrastructure development must be a priority in 2019. Yet, that’s not what we have seen in the bayous of Louisiana or the plains of the Dakotas. For example, energy infrastructure projects have been plagued with fringe activists and anti-energy protesters who continue to escalate tactics, often times breaking the law and endangering themselves and innocent bystanders in the process. Some have taken to chaining themselves to construction equipment and creating aerial blockades in the trees. In Pennsylvania, one vigilante protester started a fire near equipment and spread spoiled food near a construction site to bother workers and attract wild animals.

Melancon contends these “risky demonstrations and polarizing attempts are further contributing to the collapse of public discourse around this important issue.” Vigilante tactics and ideological opposition to responsible infrastructure development are not conducive to moving the US forward. Melancon even notes that “some groups have even gone as far as to demand banks refuse to do business or associate with the energy companies building projects to better serve American consumers across the country.” He concludes that although our infrastructure deficiencies are complicated and will take time to address, it starts with a straightforward and bipartisan plan right now in 2019, as he writes:

The U.S. faces complex infrastructure deficiencies that are undoubtedly multi-faceted and will take some time to improve. These matters will not be solved overnight; or within the next year, for that matter. But a long-term solution starts with a strong infrastructure plan with bipartisan support in 2019. Through the integration of effective public-private partnerships and a clear vision, lawmakers can hit the ground running and develop a plan to grow our nation’s infrastructure.  

White House focusing on strengthening US energy industry

A number of media outlets have recently reported the Trump administration is focusing efforts on strengthening the US energy industry and investment in critical energy infrastructure. In addition to being a key advancement for economic growth, Politico reports these efforts also aim to portray strength to Russia, as US states in the northeast have previously relied on imported LNG from Russia – partially due to a lack of energy infrastructure in the region.

The President plans to use executive action if necessary in order to encourage further investment in infrastructure and streamline the regulatory process. Politico also highlights President Trump’s past executive orders to approve permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL. While legal challenges carry on regarding Keystone XL, Dakota Access has been safely transporting 500,000 bpd for more than a year.

The Daily Caller recognized the White House’s emphasis on bolstering the energy industry, writing:

The administration’s policies have been met with fruitful results. The U.S. last year surpassed both Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest crude oil producer. The U.S. shale oil boom, made possible with the invention of hydraulic fracturing, has continued to witness record-setting production numbers, blowing past the predictions of international analysts. The Energy Information Administration announced Thursday that it now expects the U.S. to become “energy independent” by 2020.

Expanding the nation’s pipeline system is a major goal of the White House. As hot development spots, such as the Permian Basin in Texas and the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, continue to churn out oil and gas, the administration wants pipelines to deliver product to markets across the country.

Increased investment in our critical energy infrastructure, bolstering the industry, and developing a stronger, more resilient grid will benefit Americans from coast to coast. From more affordable fuel costs to new jobs and economic growth, the focus on US energy can play an important role in meeting our nation’s growing needs.

Democrats can lead the way on infrastructure development in 2019

An op-ed penned by Former US Rep. Harold Ford Jr. was recently featured in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, contending it is now up to Democrats in leadership to “put forward an agenda that will deliver on what’s been absent in Washington recently – results – and set the party up to succeed in 2020.”

With partisan strife at a seemingly all-time high, Republicans and Democrats may be able to agree on one thing: infrastructure development. Ford underlines “nearly two-thirds of Americans support President Trump’s proposal to increase infrastructure spending, which is remarkable for any policy from the current White House.” And have no doubt, our infrastructure must be a priority moving forward: The American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest report card gives U.S. infrastructure a barely-passing D+ grade, and called for $2 trillion of investment by 2025 to bring our resources up to code.

As an energy-rich nation, the US must take advantage of its resources in order to meet the needs of its consumers from coast to coast. Ford writes:

Domestic shale development has positioned the United States to become a net energy exporter by 2022 for the first time since the 1950’s. This newfound energy security is creating jobs, helping address climate change and catalyzing economic growth. It has happened largely as a result of prudent public-private partnerships, which have helped deploy infrastructure to keep up with burgeoning production, including some 14,000 miles of pipeline expected to be installed this year.

However, when it comes to investments in our critical energy infrastructure, the industry has faced a series of challenges and legal hurdles. As Ford writes:

From North Dakota to the Louisiana bayous to the Texas deserts and the Appalachian woodlands, we have witnessed a sequence of events including online, courtroom and construction site fights that render it extremely difficult for new and efficient energy infrastructure to be invested in and rolled out.

All sides have to respect the regulatory process, a process designed to protect the safety of our communities and environment. Fringe tactics don’t advance the country’s interests.

As Mr. Ford concludes, it’s time for Democrats to step up and take the lead on infrastructure development. He writes:

Let’s set the right stage for progress now and even in 2020 by focusing on infrastructure and building a stronger, more durable and ready to be invested in America for the future.

Louisiana Governor: Pipelines Safest Way to Transport Oil

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards reaffirmed his support Wednesday for the Bayou Bridge Pipeline and the coastal refineries the soon-to-be-completed pipeline will support.

“What I will reaffirm is my commitment to make sure that all of the refineries situated in south Louisiana, along the river will continue to be able to get their supply of oil,” Edwards said during his monthly call-in radio show.

“There is no safer way to do it than a properly constructed, properly maintained pipeline. You can’t do it by truck, you can’t do it by rail as safely. That’s my commitment, but we are going to do it in a way that meets all of the requirements imposed by law and that is as safe as it can possibly be.”

Edwards comments came in response to a question from Dean Wilson, executive director of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, regarding alleged violations incurred by the pipeline’s developer. In response, the governor emphasized that concerns of this nature should be included in ongoing litigation.

To date, legal challenges to the project have largely been hollowed out in court proceedings where activists have been forced to admit inconvenient facts. Last fall, a Louisiana district court judge chided pipeline foes, writing in a ruling that the court would not accept “the self-serving unscientifically corroborated testimony” provided by an environmental activist.

US can play key role in responsible infrastructure development in Latin America

As the government shutdown continues, all eyes have been on Washington as ongoing budget negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leadership have proven futile. As GAIN spokesman Craig Stevens writes in his recently published op-ed in Morning Consult:

Given all this attention [to the border], it has been difficult to miss the poor living conditions facing the Central American population. Take Honduras, for example, where two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. Many migrants moving toward the U.S. border started their journey in Honduras, looking to leave behind the violence and inadequate living conditions.

Although the region’s challenges are multi-faceted, progress starts with small steps, and the US can play a major role in improving living conditions in countries like Honduras by facilitating responsible energy infrastructure development. As Stevens contends, Latin America has lacked adequate resources and the infrastructure required to provide reliable electricity and fuel to meet its consumer needs. He writes:

Energy-rich countries such as the United States can play an important role in this, too. For example, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Gas Infrastructure Exports Initiative can help to facilitate responsible energy development in Latin American countries.

While the US under the current administration has been hesitant to increase assistance to the region, China has seized the opportunity and has begun developing relationships with several Latin American governments through its investment in the region, nearly $150 billion since 2015. As GAIN strategic advisor James “Spider” Marks writes in his recently published op-ed in Real Clear World, “China’s deep commitment to Latin America is a direct challenge to the United States.”

Marks underlines several concerning elements of China’s growing involvement in our backyard – much of which has a negative impact on the people throughout the region. He writes:

A number of countries in the region are already benefiting from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a long-term plan for increased trade and economic growth with significant foreign policy and geopolitical implications. Although most of the states participating in the program span Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, the number of Latin American participants is expected to grow as China continues to express its willingness to invest in the region. 

However, these countries have already started to pay the price for their growing dependence on China. From Venezuelan oil deals to Ecuadorian mining issues, infrastructure development has been conducted irresponsibly, with significant repercussions falling on local populations. As reported by the Washington Post, “many Latin Americans have criticized China for its extensive promotion of Chinese firms, labor, and machinery within state-to-state investment contracts, and its lack of local governance standards, including inadequate environment and labor protections.” Are we surprised? Of course not. 

As both Stevens and Marks conclude, as an energy-rich country, the US is well-positioned to foster responsible energy infrastructure development in countries throughout Latin America, such as Honduras. Through private-public partnerships, in tandem with strong industry standards and regulations, these goals can become a reality.

Energy industry going above and beyond when it comes to cybersecurity

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report with claims that there are a series of “weaknesses” in how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) manages its pipeline security efforts. While it’s worthwhile to continually evaluate the resilience of our nation’s energy networks, what this report doesn’t acknowledge are the lengths that the energy industry is already going to in exceeding regulatory best practices around cybersecurity. It’s important to keep in mind that guidelines outlined by the TSA are a baseline framework, and many operators continue to exceed these standards. In fact, the global oil industry was expected to increase spending on cyber defenses by $1.9 billion in 2018.

Safety is the top priority for the natural gas industry. Although the GAO report is a helpful assessment, any changes to the current status quo should not be made in an overly hasty manner. There are inherent risks involved in every industry, but the TSA and energy developers are working closely together, taking robust steps to anticipate any potential threats and develop safeguards accordingly. From decades of extensive experience, the TSA and pipeline operators have developed layers of resilient support and strong security programs to mitigate risk.

In addition to comprehensive training exercises to simulate active assaults on the grid, dozens of natural gas and oil companies share cyber threat intelligence with each other and the federal government. Therefore, there is little chance that a severe service disruption could occur to the natural gas transmission network. And in the exceedingly rare event of a disruption, impacts would be localized and brief, and it is extremely unlikely that a single point of disruption could result in an uncontrollable cascading outage.

Regulators play a critical role in modern energy development. But “playing politics” or adding more regulatory hurdles is not the answer to bolstering industry security – the US must instead streamline the permitting process, establish straightforward expectations, and ensure regulatory certainty for developers. In an era when the US is producing record amounts of oil and gas, lawmakers and regulators alike must welcome investment and foster an environment conducive to energy infrastructure development.