Opinion

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Guest Column

Environmental Activists Are Recycling Their Playbook

Anti-fossil fuels activists will stop at nothing to stand in the way of the country’s energy security

Continuing a campaign of obstruction against U.S. energy producers, environmental activists are back in court to oppose another piece of critical American infrastructure. In May a Montana court took up a dispute raised by opponents over the environmental impact statement of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was completed in 2014. The latest in a series of attacks on American energy producers and transporters, the move shows that anti-fossil fuels activists will stop at nothing to stand in the way of the country’s energy security.

Over the past two decades the United States has made significant strides towards energy independence. For most Americans, this has come as welcome news: reliable access to affordable fuels, less volatility in the markets, economic growth and improvements in quality of living. Nearly two-thirds of voters believe the economy is headed in the right direction, according to a recent CBS News poll, which owes largely to President Donald Trump’s promise to empower U.S. energy producers.

Bolstered by domestic shale development, U.S. oil and natural gas production has achieved record levels over recent years. This remarkable growth is creating jobs and bringing online new technologies that will better protect the environment and our communities. Forecasts indicate that the oil and gas industry will add nearly 1.9 million jobs by 2035. Minorities will fill close to a quarter of managerial positions. Close to half of women hired will take on administrative and professional roles.

At the same time, investment in infrastructure and production capabilities are helping reduce emissions and keeping our lands and waters clean. Industry leaders recently released a set of guiding principles to reduce emissions, which at least eight major producers have agreed to. ExxonMobil, a flagship of the oil and gas industry, has spent more than $9 billion to reduce greenhouse gases since 2000, and last fall the company pledged to reduce methane emissions by 15 percent by 2020.

Just as critical, if not more so, are advances in infrastructure. Pipeline capabilities are improving success rates from production sites to consumers, reducing reliance on less-reliable overland options like railcar and trucks, and expanding the capacity to move energy products—all of which empower smart, safe gas and oil development. Midstream technologies, coupled with prudent regulation and increased industry-government partnerships, are bringing chances of failure to near zero and improving response protocols when incidents to occur.

Yet, regrettably, the small but vocal fringes of the environmental movement seem to disregard the pivotal role of traditional energy production. These bad actors have demonstrated that no tactic is too low, and with deep-pockets and national organization they have begun to apply their playbook to development across the country. Wherever new infrastructure is needed, these groups seem to appear to stand in the way—and they have been successful in disrupting critical infrastructure plans.

Activists’ litigate-and-delay strategy that they are now applying to the Keystone XL is nothing new, but it poses a serious threat to Montana, the region and the country. For nearly a decade, protestors have dogged the project, which will contribute up to $3.4 billion to the economy and move up to 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day once operational. Such efforts not only carry a hefty cost to taxpayers, they undermine the regulatory process and discourage much needed investment in U.S. infrastructure.

Sadly, so-called eco-activists have had some success in affecting public opinion, even though their mission runs counter to reality. In 2015, the Obama administration halted the project following protests over the project. It took an executive order from President Trump to resurrect the pipeline, and even now actions to obstruct construction threaten to complicate the line’s completion.

Canada, which shares an interest in the Keystone XL’s success, offers a lesson in the consequences of this kind of road-blocking. Last month the country’s federal government purchased a pipeline project for $3.5 billion after local protests threatened to derail it entirely. In place of private investment, tax-payers there must now shoulder the bill. And the government may later sell the project, leaving little certitude about the long-term operation of the line.

Policymakers would be foolish to let dogmatic opposition stand in the way of the Keystone XL in the same way. The pipeline will add $80 million in annual tax revenue for Montana and create thousands of good-paying jobs for skilled workers. The line will foster production on the Bakken shale formation by offering an on-ramp that will move as much as 100,000 barrels a day from the region.

In considering the Keystone XL Pipeline’s potential, it bears noting the immense impact the neighboring Dakota Access Pipeline is having already. Like the Keystone XL, the Dakota Access was subject to intense protests. Now operational, the pipeline has helped propel production in North Dakota to over 1 million barrels of crude oil per day. The number of rigs in the area has more than doubled from May 2016, and the number of producing wells has grown to over 14,450—the most on record. State officials expect as much as $250 million in additional tax revenues this budget term because of increase production.

For years anti-energy groups have made a special cause of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Sadly, this deep-pocketed opposition ignores the interests of everyday, hard-working Montanans and the United States’ energy security. It is time policymakers uphold the regulatory process and give this critical infrastructure project the definitive green-light it deserves.

Craig Stevens is the spokesperson for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, a national coalition focused on promoting key infrastructure investments.

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