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Editorial comment

Rob Benedict, Senior Director of Petrochemicals, Transportation, and Infrastructure, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).

While investing in stronger US infrastructure is among the few truly bipartisan issues in today’s political landscape, pipelines – a key component of our energy infrastructure – are the subject of growing misconceptions. This year we’ve seen a flurry of hotly contested pipeline cases at all levels of the courts as these projects face growing opposition from activists, and pipelines remain a divisive issue as the election approaches.

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US refineries and petrochemical facilities rely on midstream infrastructure – the integrated system of pipelines, storage facilities, railroads, ports, waterways, and roads – as a vital link to sources of crude oil and other feedstocks. This same type of infrastructure also delivers gasoline, diesel, and other products from refineries to consumers. Pipelines and other midstream infrastructure ensure that Americans have reliable access to energy, providing consumers with the transportation fuels and petrochemical products they rely on every day.

The ongoing pipeline debate is bound to have significant impacts on the US refining and petrochemical industries. In 2019 alone, US refineries received over 4.4 billion bbl of crude oil via pipeline, almost 72% of their total crude receipts.1 While a robust network of over 224 000 miles of pipeline2 in the US serves as the indispensable vessels and veins of American energy, a multitude of experts and government officials argue that additional pipeline capacity is still needed.

Experts continue to underscore that pipelines are safer than other modes for transporting energy products. Jude Clemente, a frequent contributor to reports commissioned by the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), wrote that “pipelines are easily the safest and most economical way to transport energy.” In addition, a 2018 report authored by the Department of Transportation indicates that pipelines are safer than any other shipping mode, including rail and trucking.3

Pipelines are also more economical, allowing for the transport of energy products at a much lower cost and supporting lower energy prices for consumers. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that pipelines can often be a help to lower income communities, which simply cannot bear the burden of higher energy costs. Despite abundant US production of petroleum products, policies unsupportive of pipeline projects can also mean that buyers turn to imported sources from overseas, often at higher cost.

For the ongoing viability of the US petroleum sector, which creates millions of jobs, we must ensure that the rules and statutes addressing pipelines and energy infrastructure projects reflect the requirements of today and tomorrow, not outdated policies from decades ago. Such policies should strike a balance between thorough environmental reviews and timely approvals to ensure adequate investment in and the success of pipeline projects. Investments into US energy infrastructure and pipelines are investments into our quality of life, our energy security, and our ability to continue driving progress at home and abroad.

  1. US Energy Information Administration, Refinery Receipts of Crude Oil by Method of Transportation, 2019 data.
  2. PHMSA data, (2020).
  3. PHMSA Report on Shipping Crude Oil by Truck, Rail and Pipeline, (2018).