MINOT, N.D. — The political fight over pipeline infrastructure has become so pronounced that one of the first things President Joe Biden did, upon taking office, was cancel a permit for the Keystone XL line to cross the American/Canadian border.
Building a new oil or gas pipeline in the United States today means not just paying to build the thing but navigating an exacting and often arcane regulatory process, fighting what will likely be years worth of litigation funded by activist groups focused on running up the legal bills, and dealing with physical protests which, in some instances, can turn brutally violent.
And even if you survive all that, you can still see your project derailed by the flick of a pen wielded by some grandstanding politician.
Meanwhile, politics aside, the need for more oil and gas pipelines is palpable.
A cyberattack has put the Colonial Pipeline out of commission.
That line — actually a network of pipelines carrying products like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel — moves something like 2.5 million barrels per day, an amount equal to about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast.
The hackers call themselves DarkSide and, in a disturbing example of just how businesslike these ransom attacks have become, offers "customers" real-time chat support, guaranteed turn-around times, brand awareness, and corporate responsibility statements. The hackers are a bit woke, promising "not to attack hospitals, schools, nonprofits, or government targets," but, as Jim Geraghty points out, hospitals, schools, nonprofits, and the government are all endeavors that use a lot of fuel.
This pipeline outage will likely mean higher prices for people in that part of the world, at least for a while. A lot of people are going to be hurt.
The most obvious solution to this problem is justice for the hackers who are perpetrating this crime, and better cybersecurity to ensure this sort of thing doesn't happen in the future.
But, also, perhaps we can also see the need for more pipelines?
A side effect of the political fight against pipeline is that it's making us more dependent on existing infrastructure.
All due respect to the folks at Colonial Pipeline — I don't begrudge them a bit of their success — but one pipeline network shouldn't be serving half of the East Coast's fuel needs.
Yet, that's the natural result of a regulatory and political environment that makes building new pipeline infrastructure, transporting products all of us are using every single day, next to impossible. Last year Dominion Energy canceled a pipeline that would have brought natural gas to the east coast.
Here in North Dakota, many are holding their breaths waiting for what could be an economically disastrous decision by a federal judge to enjoin the operation of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which carries nearly half of North Dakota's oil production to market. The judge has already ordered the pipeline shutdown once while a new environmental review takes place, and while that decision was overruled on appeal, it could happen again.
"Is This the End of New Pipelines?" The New York Times asked in an article for January.
It shouldn't be.
It can't be.
We need the pipelines because we need the products they carry. Every new pipeline canceled makes our personal and economic security more precarious.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.