America’s pipelines are old, and their age may be starting to show. Colonial Pipeline Co. operates one of the country’s biggest fuel corridors, and it saw that important bit of infrastructure explode—killing one and injuring five more—after an excavator ruptured the pipeline on Monday. That section of the pipe was constructed in 1963, which naturally raises questions about the safety of these older networks. This isn’t a problem isolated in the southeast, either—according to the WSJ, more than three-fifths of the fuel pipelines in the U.S. were constructed more than forty years ago.
But modernizing these pipes is easier said than done, in large part thanks to the mountains of red tape operators have to contend with. The WSJ reports:
Building pipelines has become harder amid opposition from landowners and environmental groups concerned about pipeline safety and stemming fossil-fuel development. Kinder Morgan Inc. had plans to build a new fuel pipeline from South Carolina to Jacksonville, Fla., by 2017. But it shelved the project after running into opposition, including legislation in Georgia aimed at keeping it from being built. […]
“The permitting process takes a long time, the cost to build is expensive. And what you end up finding is that customers aren’t willing, or have not been willing to commit, for a period of 10 to 15 years,” [Colonial Pipeline CEO Dave Doudna] said. “I would say a lot of it is the regulatory environment we’re living in today.”
Fuel pipelines aren’t the only American pipe network whose difficulties navigating bureaucracy and regulatory hurdles are threatening the economy. Our crude oil pipelines have been notoriously slow to catch up to the shale boom (though, to be fair, any industry would have trouble keeping apace of what U.S. fracking firms have been doing over the past eight years). In the northeast, a dearth of natural gas pipelines—brought about by everyone’s favorite group of progress-impeding activists, the cantankerous NIMBYists—has jacked up New England’s heating bills.
For too long, America’s energy policies where characterized by a worry over scarcity. We’ve passed that point now, and thanks to shale we’re living in an era of energy abundance. That brings with it a host of new problems, however, including the need to expand and modernize the networks that move these new energy supplies (and their refined products) from producer to consumer. On that front, companies are facing more problems above the ground than below it. Addressing that issue ought to be a top priority for the next administration.