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PHMSA Looks to the Future

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which is tasked with inspecting our nation’s pipelines, is looking to the next generation of scientists to tackle the challenges that a rapidly expanding energy infrastructure can present.  As Bakken Shale wrote:

 “In addition to hiring more than 100 new safety inspectors this year, the PHMSA will also be awarding $ 2 million in grants for students and faculty to research pipeline safety solutions. These grants designed to expose new engineers and scientists to the technical side of the energy transportation sector.”

We applaud the actions PHMSA is undertaking to make sure that the next generation of energy projects, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, is as safe and environmentally friendly as our capabilities allow it to be. While pipelines have consistently proven themselves to be the safest mode of transporting energy, we should always look to incorporate new technologies and solutions to improving our energy infrastructure.

An Investment in Safety

North Dakota is taking steps to insure that its energy transportation system remains safe, reliable, and dependable. While pipeline and railroad regulation is traditionally the domain of the federal government and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), North Dakota’s governor has signaled his commitment to ensuring the integrity of the state’s energy transportation system. As The Dickinson Press recently reported:

“Dalrymple and the Public Service Commission have also proposed a state-run railroad safety program and pipeline integrity program “that would complement federal oversight in North Dakota,” according to the release. The proposal would cost North Dakota $1.4 million for three position to inspect railroad tracks. Another three state employees would inspect pipelines that transport oil and other liquids to market.”

The decision to bring on more safety personnel has drawn praise from around the state, which is warranted. We believe that expanding the number of full time pipeline safety inspectors will have the double benefit of making existing pipelines safer, while ensuring that planned projects as the Dakota Access Pipeline are built on schedule, while fulfilling all of the stringent safety requirements. This measure would protect the public, help the industry, and most importantly of all, safeguard our region’s natural resources.

Clearing our Crowded Rail Roads

America’s freight rail system has been described as “one of the unsung transport successes of the past 30 years.” Productivity has nearly doubled, energy efficiency has skyrocketed, and rates are nearly half of what they were in 1981. However, our region’s rail networks are facing challenges so far unprecedented in recent history.

The energy revolution occurring in the Midwest is currently unlocking vast amounts of resources, creating jobs, helping our manufacturing sector stay competitive, and making our country more energy independent. However, a large percentage of the energy currently produced is currently being transported to market by rail as rail capacity is squeezed.  Demand for space on our region’s rails has simply not kept up with supply.

The stress placed on our rail system has caused unfortunate mistakes. Our region has seen the results of these accidents first hand.  Moreover, our region’s rail infrastructure is facing the prospect of still further increases in volume and frequency of energy transports. Between February and March, Sioux City has recorded a nearly 100% jump in the amount of oil trains coming through the city of over 80,000, carrying around 1 million gallons of crude oil each.

While the oil trains keep rolling, our region’s farmers are left with the challenge of getting their products to market, with backlogs of nearly 1,000 trains waiting to ship grain and other products being recorded within the past year. A recent letter to BNSF shareholders stressed the “disappointment” they caused some of their customers by not being able to accommodate their shipments.

While our freight rail system continues to be an example for the rest of the world, we believe that diversifying our energy infrastructure will mutually benefit energy producers, farmers, and the general public. Proposed pipeline projects in our region, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline are the key to meeting these challenges. Oil pipelines have been and continue to be the safest means of transporting energy, while doing so for a fraction of the price.

Expanding our pipeline infrastructure will increase safety, reduce energy costs, benefit our region’s farmers all while reducing the strain on our region’s rail infrastructure.

Let the IUB do its Job

Last week, a bipartisan group of Iowa lawmakers submitted a letter urging the Iowa Utilities Board to continue their review of the Dakota Access Pipeline project without imposing additional regulatory requirements. The lawmakers encouraged the board to proceed in the professional and unbiased manner for which the agency is known.

The Dakota Access Pipeline proposal is currently in the review process by the Iowa Utilities Board. The submittal of this proposal was preceded by meetings with landowners and the public, where the company, Dakota Access LLC, received input from various stakeholders including local community members. The approval process is fully independent of the Iowa legislature, removing any undue political influence. Governor Branstad has urged the legislature to allow the IUB process to run its course as well.

The MAIN Coalition applauds the determination of the lawmakers to maintain the agency’s independence in reviewing this and all applications. As the letter states, it’s vital that Iowa not become a state viewed by would-be investors as a landscape resistant to new development.

We believe that our region needs to continue to develop its energy infrastructure in a responsible manner. Our land is out most valuable resource, but it can be preserved and protected while still pursuing the important goal of energy independence. Ensuring that energy can flow safely and reliably to consumers will provide easier access to the investments that are so critical to growing our economy, and sustaining long term job growth.

It is our view that the Iowa Utilities Board has a responsibility to go through the all of the relevant data with care to evaluate the safety merits of this project. Construction of any pipeline is governed by numerous laws on the local, state, and federal level. Exhaustive surveys are conducted to ensure minimal impact to sensitive areas, cultural landmarks, and wells. The Dakota Access Pipeline is no exception.

We encourage the board to base its decision on the facts, and allow the regulatory system already in place to guide their decision making process. Let the merits of this investment be the deciding factor, and let’s keep rhetoric and talking points – and most of all, politics – as far away from the process as we can.

The full text of the letter has been published on IUB’s website here.

Expanding Infrastructure Brings Diverse Benefits, Broad Support

Ideal economic development projects do more than create jobs and spark local and regional investment. While those factors are crucial – and indeed, economic development projects and infrastructure expansion have helped our region to create tens of thousands of jobs and have led to billions in private investment – they are not the end of the story.

It is important, when weighing the merits of one project or another, to look closely at the factors that reach beyond economic impact and job creation – to gain a careful understanding of the big picture as it relates to the project’s impact.

It is this careful examination that’s led us to start the MAIN coalition.

Led by the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, we are a collection of entities from all sectors of the Midwest economy that has recognized the importance of expanding our region’s critical infrastructure through projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline. Our membership is diverse, representing statewide organized labor groups, state Chambers of Commerce, agriculture groups and farmers, trade associations, economic development authorities, and individual businesses and landowners from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois.

Those of us from the business and industry community recognize the immediate impact that this level of investment will have on our local and regional investment landscape, and we appreciate the fact that this project will be created without a dime of cost to taxpayers.

The farmers and agricultural groups among us support this project because of what it will mean for our sector’s bottom line, keeping energy prices and input costs low and making the shipment of our ag products more affordable thanks to reduced strain on the region’s rail network.

And the labor leaders that helped to convene this coalition support the project because it will create thousands of jobs for local laborers – living-wage jobs that will help our members to feed their families and support their communities.

Our reasons for supporting this project are diverse, but we’re joined by a common belief that the construction of this project is the right move for the communities in which we live and work. We believe that pipelines are the most efficient and most environmentally sound means of transporting the fossil energy that we need to keep our region competitive.

We also believe that the future of this project should be decided on its merits, and should hinge on a clear discussion of the facts rather than an ongoing exchange of talking points and rhetoric.

We’re eager to be a part of this debate, and to articulate the many reasons that our members – from truckers and hotel owners to farmers and laborers – want to see this project move forward.

© 2016