Colleen Newman served as policy and external affairs advisor to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, a professional society engaged in upstream oil and gas development. She previously served as an energy advisor to Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño. Ms. Newman also spent several years as a government affairs advisor at the law firm of Brickfield, Burchette, Ritts and Stone P.C.
One of President Trump’s major campaign promises was to improve America’s infrastructure. Most agree it is in desperate need of repair and investment in areas such as transportation, dams, drinking water, parks, and energy infrastructure. The backdrop for this conversation is a report card published by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which grades infrastructure in the U.S. every four years.
The recently released report card for 2017 gave the overall state of infrastructure in the U.S. a D+. ASCE defines that grade as in fair to poor condition and in need of serious upgrades. In 2013, the last time ASCE released its report card, U.S. infrastructure also received a grade of D+.
The report card contains a section that specifically addresses energy infrastructure, and gives that sub-section a grade of D+. Again, no change in grade from the last report card. The major reason for this grade: many existing electric transmission and distribution lines are at the end of their life expectancy and, in many cases, at full capacity. These factors can lead to increased energy prices for consumers and less reliability.
Another concern is the lack of a coordinated strategy to address the long-term sustainability of the energy system, such as the use of distributed technologies and increased use of natural gas and renewables on the electric grid. The report card also expresses concerns about the age of the country’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure, much of which is almost forty years old. It also notes that petroleum refineries are at ninety percent capacity.
Some of the recommendations that the report makes to improve the grade include the following:
Development of a federal energy policy that will provide direction for meeting current and future energy needs, including the use of alternative energy sources. It also includes streamlining the permitting process so it will be easier to build new electric transmission and natural gas pipelines.
The report includes a suggestion for developing a strategy to make federal investments in electric transmission, generation and distribution that will enable faster recovery from storm damage and forms of other severe weather.
It also includes the suggestion of increased use of remote sensing and inspecting technologies to lower energy monitoring costs. It includes performance-based regulations to determine pipeline integrity and investments in early corrective actions for problematic pipelines.
Finally, the report suggests the use of standard engineering standards for transmission and distribution lines and pipelines.
Members of Congress seem to agree that new investments to U.S. infrastructure are overdue, and are already in the process of taking the first steps to discuss potential elements they would like to see in a larger infrastructure bill.
That bill could provide as much as