In an otherwise divided political climate, there is one area that Democrats and Republicans seem to be converging on—it is high time to modernize America’s national infrastructure. Earlier this year, House Democrats unveiled a $760 million infrastructure development proposal. Two weeks later, President Trump put forward a $1 trillion plan of his own, packaged in his 2021 federal budget request, that comes as the Administration looks to streamline the infrastructure approval process.
Both offerings prioritize the United States’ highways and transit systems, along with notable earmarks for broadband, water, rail and other critical public safety networks. As policymakers debate the details and costs of the proposals, leaders on both sides of the aisle must also remember the importance of our energy infrastructure.
Unlike much of our country’s infrastructure, energy transportation capabilities have enjoyed significant private investment over the past decade. Coupled with strong public-private partnerships, this spending has bolstered energy production here at home, which has repositioned the U.S. from dependence on foreign suppliers to a net-energy exporter later this year, according to federal projections.
The United States’ energy success is a good example of the government and private sector working together to improve safety and efficiency. The combination of industry-led innovation and strong regulatory oversight has helped improve existing infrastructure and deploy new capabilities, both of which have been instrumental in keeping pace with new production happening across the country.
Consider the Dakota Access Pipeline. After more than two years of safe operations that have connected the Bakken’s rapidly growing output with consumer markets, the pipeline’s operators have proposed an optimization plan to accommodate even greater flow. The project would increase capacity to 1.1 million barrels of oil per day, nearly double its current rate, while requiring no new mainline construction.
The project has recently received approvals in North Dakota and South Dakota, where new pump stations will be built along the existing route to facilitate the higher flowrate. The existing pipeline infrastructure employs modern technology, like internal sensor monitoring, drone surveillance and emergency response software to ensure the safe, long-term operation of the pipeline.
The result of the project plan is a clear win for communities and the environment. The Dakota Access Pipeline optimization will add significant capacity to efficiently move product, helping to alleviate transportation bottlenecks and reduce dependence on rail and truck. Recent oil tanker derailments offer a reminder of how much more volatile those overland options are. And because the project expands on the existing pipeline, it imposes no new construction footprint.
In the same way that pipeline development is making energy transportation more efficient, public-private partnerships are making if safer, too. Working with federal, state and local regulators, industry leaders are introducing new technologies, implementing best practices and investing in community safety—all of which reduce the chances of an incident and improve responses if one happens.
Last month, Energy Transfer Partners — the developer behind the Dakota Access Pipeline — announced it will join North Dakota’s Intelligent Pipeline Integrity Program, or iPipe, which seeks to prevent accidents through technology and procedures. The program, which has been called a model for entrepreneurship and applied research, is just one of many examples where industry is joining forces with government to improve pipeline safety.
Leaders in Washington deserve credit for coming up with plans to modernize our country’s antiquated and aging infrastructure, and they should work together to pass a comprehensive deal. They should not overlook energy infrastructure. Congress and the White House should look for ways to further improve public-private partnerships, encourage investment and streamline the regulatory process. Doing so will build on recent success, secure our country’s march towards energy independence, and best protect our communities and the environment.
Tom Magness (U.S. Army colonel, retired) served as a commander in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and he is the founder of the Eagle Leadership Group and currently acts as a strategic adviser to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now Coalition.