Pipelines

Pipelines have generated substantial controversy in the United States climate change debate, especially over the last few years. In particular, the Keystone and Line 5 Pipelines sparked protests from environmental activists and many on the Left.

Updated:
Jun 23, 2022
| Published:
Jun 23, 2022
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North America has an extensive interstate and transnational pipeline network that transports raw materials, such as natural gas and oil. Transnational pipelines have drawn significant opposition from environmentalists and landowners due to the potential environmental consequences. In particular, two of these pipelines faced unprecedented protests: Keystone XL and Line 5.

History

Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act (1968)

Federal regulation of pipeline safety began in 1968 with the passage of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. Congress passed the statute primarily to address public safety and environmental concerns associated with pipeline transportation of flammable, toxic, or corrosive natural gas and other gases. In other words, the Act generally was not intended to serve as an occupational safety law.

To implement the new law, Congress created the Office of Pipeline Safety in September 1968 as an agency within the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). The pipeline industry has long been concerned with the jurisdictional issues between the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) over workplace safety regulation. However, both agencies have recently taken more aggressive positions about the scope of their jurisdiction, prompting more unease.

Natural Gas Policy Act (NGPA) (1978)

The Natural Gas Policy Act (NGPA) granted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authority over intrastate and interstate natural gas production. The main goals of the Act are:

  • Creating a single national natural gas market;
  • Equalizing supply with demand; and
  • Allowing market forces to establish the wellhead price of natural gas.

Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Act (1979)

With the passage of the Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Act of 1979, the Office of Pipeline Safety obtained jurisdiction over pipelines carrying hazardous liquids, such as crude oil.

Creation of PHSMA (2004)

In 2004, Congress created the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA) within the DOT. Its job was to regulate pipeline safety and the safe transportation of hazardous materials by other modes. According to the agency, its mission is to “protect people and the environment from the risks of hazardous materials transportation.”

Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act (2016)

President Barack Obama signed the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act on June 22, 2016. This bipartisan law helps advance the safe transportation of energy and other hazardous materials. PHMSA’s rulemakings chart follows Section 3 of the PIPES Act 2016 that states that “the Secretary of Transportation shall publish an update on a publically available website of the Department of Transportation regarding the status of a final rule for each outstanding regulation…”

Section 3 (c) defines an outstanding regulation as:

  1. A final rule required under the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (Public Law 112–90) that has not been published in the Federal Register
  2. A final rule regarding gas or hazardous liquid pipeline facilities required under this Act, or an Act passed before the date of enactment of this Act (other than the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (Public Law 112–90)) that has not been published in the Federal Register. In addition, PHMSA is to provide a description of all rulemakings regarding gas or hazardous liquid pipeline facilities published in the Federal Register that are not identified above.

Pipeline Construction

Keystone XL Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline was proposed in 2010 and was initially intended to stretch across 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska. Over the next six years, the pipeline’s owners proposed extending the pipeline further south, with one terminal located as far south as Houston and Port Arthur in Texas. Since its proposal, the pipeline has faced heavy protest from environmental activists, Indigenous leaders, and farm and ranch owners who worry about its potential negative effects. Indigenous communities were at severe risk of being displaced from their homes and raised concerns about the potential for oil pipelines to ruin the drinking water supply. Farm and ranch owners who had property in the path of the pipeline worried about their livelihoods if they were to lose portions, if not all, of their land.

Protests were somewhat successful with then-President Barack Obama, as he never granted presidential confirmation during his time in office. However, his successor, President Donald Trump, approved the construction on his first day in office. President Biden quickly reversed the approval following his inauguration, canceling all permits for the Keystone XL pipeline. On June 9, 2021, TC Energy officially confirmed the complete termination of the pipeline project. 

Line 5 Pipeline

The Line 5 Pipeline, built in 1953, was constructed by the Canadian company Enbridge to transport oil and natural gas from western Canada to the American Great Lakes region. Line 5 sparked an international controversy when Enbridge, backed by the Canadian government, refused to halt its construction in defiance of American orders. The state of Michigan revoked the permit to continue expansion in the state’s jurisdiction due to a lack of public trust and threats to the environment. Line 5, since its construction in 1953, has leaked 29 times and spilled a cumulative 4.5 million liters of oil. Another pipeline constructed by Enbridge spilled over three million liters of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why are pipelines still running with the number of liters of oil they have spilled?
  2. Explain your opinion on the argument that pipelines reduce the need for trucks and cargo ships.

History

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Narratives

Left Narrative

The United States must shut down these pipelines, and no more lines should be allowed into the network. Careless construction mishaps and human error cause many oil spills, releasing toxic chemicals that harm the environment. Shutting down the pipes will also stop fossil fuel emissions on Indigenous land, preserving their communities’ health and culture.

Right Narrative

A majority of Democrats oppose pipelines without pondering the consequences of removing them. The pipeline reduces the need for trucks to carry loads less efficiently or potentially cause oil spills from cargo ships. In addition, it is far cleaner to refine Canadian oil in the United States than the alternative of sending it to China. Lastly, shutting down lines will cause gas prices to increase drastically, hurting millions of Americans. However, there is some contention about land rights and eminent domain, which both sides can find common ground on.

Bipartisan Narrative

A majority of Democrats oppose pipelines without pondering the consequences of removing them. The pipeline reduces the need for trucks to carry loads less efficiently or potentially cause oil spills from cargo ships. In addition, it is far cleaner to refine Canadian oil in the United States than the alternative of sending it to China. Lastly, shutting down lines will cause gas prices to increase drastically, hurting millions of Americans. However, there is some contention about land rights and eminent domain, which both sides can find common ground on.

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Classroom Content

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