Opinion

Protect Our National Economy By Harnessing Our Natural Gas Supply

The world is volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous.  Any realistic assessment would conclude that peace and stability are most likely an intergenerational challenge. To protect our economy from this global volatility, we must redouble our efforts to produce and market our own energy.

It has been almost 16 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and the Middle East remains a hot cauldron of violence, war and hatred despite the efforts of two successive U.S. administrations and thousands of U.S. lives lost. 

Venezuela, a major source of energy, is a failed state. North Korea threatens to create chaos in Asia, and Russia is actively trying to destabilize Europe, not to mention the United States.

After 9/11 both political parties agreed that the United States needed to become less dependent on foreign sources of energy, particularly oil and gas. It was a political point on which all Americans could agree. Today, the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and gas is just as urgent as it was then.

Qatar, the fourth-largest natural gas producer in the world, is being isolated by Saudi Arabia and the United States over concerns about ties to terrorism. U.S. relations with Iran, the third-largest natural gas producer, and Russia, the second-largest producer, are strained, to say the least. 

The U.S. economy depends on traditional sources of energy such as oil and gas. Alternative sources, as desirable as they may be, simply cannot replace our existing fuels in the near term. The United States is the world’s largest consumer of both oil and natural gas. Although our domestic production has risen, we are still the world’s largest importer of petroleumand its third-largest importer of natural gas

Importing this much fuel during a time of great global instability puts our economy at risk. Because it will take decades before alternative fuels can even begin to compete with oil and gas, our only way to reduce this risk is to continue shifting to domestic sources. 

Shale exploitation has dramatically increased U.S. production of both oil and natural gas. This has lowered prices and has helped us become less dependent on foreign sources. But much of this supply remains in storage because we lack the infrastructure necessary to bring it to consumers. 

Our old pipeline system was designed to bring oil and gas from coastal ports to the interior of the country. We have abundant supplies of energy in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and North Dakota. But we don’t have enough pipelines to take that energy from those locations to the people and businesses who need it. 

Businesses are working to fill this demand. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved a dozen natural gas pipelines so far this year. Another 15 are pending approval. (Some of these lines are to deliver gas for export, which is beneficial both economically and strategically.) 

But after pipelines pass through the lengthy approval process which includes rigorous Army Corps of Engineer review, they often face further political obstacles. Protesters sometimes try to shut them down or sue in court to block them. State regulators, encouraged by vigorous and often misguided advocacy groups, can needlessly delay construction.

Given today’s global uncertainty, is imperative that we get new pipelines built as quickly as possible adhering as always to only the strictest safety standards. There is no predicting when the international supply will be further disrupted by war, terrorism, political maneuvering or attempts by major suppliers to rig the market in their favor. The longer we wait, the longer we remain vulnerable to events beyond our control.

Political instability leads to economic instability. We can protect our economy from the ongoing global chaos by further developing our own domestic sources of energy and ensuring that they have a safe, reliable path into the marketplace. The best way to do this is to accelerate the construction of new pipelines. The sooner they are built, the safer our economy will be.

Major Gen. James “Spider” Marks (U.S. Army, ret.), is president of The Marks Collaborative. He also serves as a strategic advisor to the Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) Coalition.