Infrastructure Snags: What’s So Hard About Moving Energy?
With all the talk about the extraordinary promise of America’s energy renaissance, it is absolutely necessary to step back and take stock of the distance between simply envisioning America’s energy potential and actually realizing it. In a way, that distance can be measured in the miles of pipeline currently traversing the United States and what is needed in additional construction in order to properly link our abundant energy resources to consumers here in the U.S. and in markets around the world.
As the White House begins its new quadrennial energy review (QER), it’s appropriate for policymakers to examine whether or not our present day regulatory scheme provides for the safe and efficient siting, construction and maintenance of our nation’s energy infrastructure network. And with the everyday growing need for more oil and natural gas pipeline, fully understanding the opportunities and challenges that await us in the future makes sense.
Indeed, with the right policies in place, America can finally achieve energy independence at home, while positioning itself as an energy superpower on the world stage. But as a part of this QER, it is just as important to recognize what policies are currently working to the benefit of all Americans, as it is to determine what new laws and regulations are necessary.
So with the old adage – “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” – in mind, the White House would be well served to leave the current system of financing pipeline construction in place. Fortunately, we already have an effective system that allows the private sector to take a leading role in the financing and construction of our national energy infrastructure network. That catalyst is the master limited partnership (MLP) tax structure – and, right now, private investment is causing a needed surge in energy infrastructure.
Midstream energy companies organized as MLPs currently own and operate approximately 310,000 miles of natural gas, NGL, refined product, and crude oil pipelines. This represents the backbone of our domestic energy system, and consists of a vast network ranging from local gathering lines to major interstate pipelines traversing thousands of miles.
Moreover, MLPs do not just own and acquire existing midstream assets; they are busily constructing new ones. In a truly win-win scenario, MLPs respond and grow according to market demands. From 2007-2012, the largest MLP companies invested approximately $88 billion in new infrastructure construction. In 2013 alone, MLP businesses are expected to have invested more than $29 billion, bringing total recent investment to approximately $117 billion. Many of these of investments went to support the energy-rich shale gas plays that are now being developed across the United States.
The White House should recognize that from a policy sense, but more importantly from a practical sense, if the U.S. is to enter this new era of energy independence, robust infrastructure investment is absolutely critical. And the MLP tax structure continues to be the most effective vehicle to help the nation cross that important threshold.
The manner in which MLPs have rapidly responded to current financing demands, foretells a tremendously bright future for our domestic infrastructure sector, and for all Americans who depend on reliable and affordable energy to power their homes, businesses, and communities.
By Mary Lyman, Executive Director, The Master Limited Partnership Association
Originally Published in National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog, 01/13/14