This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Russel Treat and David Holt of the Consumer Energy Alliance discussing the latest political topics surrounding the pipeline industry.
Listen for key updates on the conversations surrounding pipeline politics at the federal and state level, the environmental factors that are important to the pipeline industry — not just environmentalists, the latest happenings surrounding the Keystone XL Pipeline and other regional pipeline projects, and more topics.
Gain valuable information and insight on what’s happening in D.C. and in your backyard regarding pipeline politics as the industry continues to push forward with pipeline measures to support energy independence in the U.S.
Update on Pipeline Politics: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- David Holt is the president of the Consumer Energy Alliance. Connect with David on LinkedIn or email him directly at email@example.com.
- The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is an advocacy organization that focuses on expanding the dialogue between the energy sector and the rest of the economy to make sensible, informed decisions about energy and energy policy.
- The Paris Accord (a/k/a The Paris Agreement) is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance. The agreement was signed in 2016.
- Emissions are the substances or byproducts released into the atmosphere via energy activity. There are several types of emissions:
- Greenhouse gas emissions are the byproduct of generating electricity and heat by burning fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil.
- VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions are the byproduct of a large group of organic chemicals that are involved in atmospheric photochemical reactions.
- Particulate matter emissions are a mix of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air that can cause health effects when inhaled.
- The Keystone Pipeline is a large-scale pipeline system designed to transfer oil from Canada to Texas. The fourth phase of the project, Keystone XL, became a hot-button, divisive issue in 2015, which caused delays. The expansion was approved in 2017 by the Trump Administration.
- Keystone XL was recently the subject of opposition in Montana. Opponents of the pipeline asked a judge to again block construction of the $8 billion project after President Trump issued a new permit.
- The Endangered Species Act serves as the enacting legislation to carry out the provisions outlined in The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES. The Act is administered by two federal agencies: the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
- FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) regulates, monitors, and investigates electricity, natural gas, hydropower, oil matters, natural gas pipelines, LNG terminals, hydroelectric dams, electric transmission, energy markets, and pricing.
- Line 5 is a light crude and natural gas liquids (NGL) pipeline operated by Enbridge proposed to run through Minnesota and replace aging Line 3. Line 5 is currently part of Enbridge’s portfolio in Michigan that also includes Line 17, Line 78, and Line 79 crude oil pipelines.
- The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is an underground pipeline system running from North Dakota through the Midwest and connects to Texas to form the Bakken pipeline system. The project drew opposition in 2016 due to concerns over the effect on Native Americans.
- The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a natural gas pipeline that will run about 600 miles between West Virginia and eastern North Carolina. Construction of the pipeline began in West Virginia in May 2018.
Update on Pipeline Politics: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 84, sponsored by Gas Certification Institute, providing training and standard operating procedures for oil and gas custody transfer measurement professionals. Find out more about GCI at gascertification.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.
Now your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we are giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Bill Berges, with Pipeline Safety Consulting. Congratulations, Bill, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around until the end of the episode.
This week, we have David Holt, with the Consumer Energy Alliance, returning to the Pipeliners Podcast. David originally was with us for Episode 18, and he comes back to give us an update to help us catch up on what is the conversation around pipelines.
David, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.
David Holt: Russel, good to be back.
Russel: You were on episode 18, very early in the whole process, and here we are a year-and-a-half later. It’s been quite a journey for me. How’s your life been going in the last year?
David: First, congratulations on 60 some odd episodes in between the last time I was on. That’s a great accomplishment and a job well done, and I know you’ll just continue to grow and attract more listeners. Kudos to you, sir.
In my world with Consumer Energy Alliance and the fight to build more pipelines and bring more energy to families and small businesses around the country, it’s a little bit more of the same.
I do feel like we’re starting to make a little bit of traction, but there’s no shortage of protesters and folks out there that are trying to say no to pipelines that really don’t have all the facts on their side. They’re trying to educate elected officials at all levels of government around the country now.
We’re there attacking pipelines and oil and natural gas and energy development in this country and energy delivery in this country, and I think that fight’s going to last a little bit longer.
Russel: Yeah, probably last longer than either of us it seems like.
Russel: I think it’s interesting. The subject here I want to you about is how do we change the conversation about pipelines.
Certainly, if you listen to the media — if you’re working in the pipeline business and you listen to the media — it just seems like we’re getting attacked from every side, and so much of it seems to be irrational. Maybe we ought to talk about what are some of the things where there are people actively trying to throw up roadblocks.
David: Yeah. The first reference, the first mention there, let’s talk about that for a second and then I’ll flip to what are all the roadblocks. I think we all need to remember that it is a minority of the country that is protesting pipelines.
It is certainly not more than 20 percent of the nation. It’s probably based on all the data around 15 percent but they are very vocal, mobilized. They are well-funded, remarkably well-funded, and they want to move the nation in a certain trajectory.
Consumer Energy Alliance is a non-partisan organization but from an energy perspective, it’s not a sensible business climate, business discussion to have.
The vast majority of the public supports energy. The vast majority of the public supports what you and I and your listeners do on a daily basis.
The vast majority of the American public wants responsible, environmentally responsible energy delivered to their homes to keep energy prices low, to keep their personal home security where it needs to be, and to keep our nation safe.
I think the majority of the American public supports the fact that we are now the number one oil producer and the number one natural gas producer in the world, so we all need to remember that first.
Russel: Yeah. I think, David, one of the things I want to add to your comment there is I remember very well in the ’70s when we had the gasoline shortages and had the long lines to be able to get a tank of gas. Odd license plate numbers went one day of the week and even license plate numbers went to the gas station on a different day of the week.
Being an American, and growing up in this country being a patriot and enrolled in all of that type of thing, being in a situation we were held hostage by others through supply of energy.
It’s just so strange to me that we find ourselves in this situation where we’re finally getting free of that kind of, lack of a better word, tyranny by others. We find ourselves in this situation where people are just like, “Well, we don’t want energy.” I don’t know. I don’t get it.
David: It dumbfounds me, too. Think about what’s going on in the world right now. We have conflict in the Middle East, in the Persian Gulf. We had Saudi Arabia just yesterday say that they are not going to increase output. If those two events had happened 15 years ago, the price of a barrel of oil would be well over $100 a barrel.
I haven’t looked this morning, but we’re in that $60-63 range over the last several days. Because of what’s happening in the Persian Gulf and because of the United States’ new position in oil and natural gas, there has not been a blip on the radar, internationally on the price of a barrel of oil.
That protects U.S. families. That protects U.S. businesses. That is a fundamental geopolitical shift in what other countries can do to the United States and United States families and voters everywhere and how they can manipulate the price of oil.
That no longer can happen because the United States is ascending and developing its own energy while we develop wind and solar and diversify our energy economy. All those things are happening simultaneously.
Pipelines, energy delivery, producing more natural gas and more oil here at home in the United States has fundamentally changed everything in the globe around energy and energy supply.
Second thing that’s happening simultaneously that no one wants to talk about. You go back to the media and the 15 percent or so, the very vocal protesters of pipelines and energy in all forms. At the same time, the United States is producing more oil and natural gas in this country, our emissions, our environmental performance, continues to lead the world.
The United States did not sign the Paris Accord, for example. We chose not to. Didn’t go through Senate. Didn’t get ratified. If the United States had and if you’re looking at benchmarks for environmental performance, if the United States had signed Paris, we are second behind Sweden in meeting the Paris Accords. The United States is the number two nation. We’re 66 percent of the way there. We’re the only large industrialized nation on earth that is even in positive numbers.
It is a remarkable performance. Every man, woman, and child that’s in the industry should pat themselves on the back and then continue to figure out how can we continue to improve our environmental performance.
At the same time we’re producing 50 percent more energy in this country over the last 25 years or so, emissions in all forms are down 50 percent. That’s VOCs, particulate matters, greenhouse gas emissions, all the rest.
The untold story. This is probably intentional among some in the media. It’s certainly intentional among those that are protesting pipelines. Do not want the story of our environmental performance, our great environmental performance, to be told.
Russel: That’s something that if you work in this business or have been working in this business for a while, you see the difference. You drive out in an oil field today. You go to an oil field site versus what that looked like 20 or 30 years ago. It’s a night and day different kind of thing.
It’s not just the things you can see. It’s a whole lot of things you can’t see. The footprints are smaller. The emissions are lower. The way they handle the fluids that are used and produced, it’s night and day different than what it used to be. It’s amazing.
Likewise, you see the same thing happening in safety. The number of injuries and fatalities and those kind of things is way down. The other thing that’s also true in the business is not only are our numbers better, but, culturally, the expectations… We’re not near where we need to be yet. Yes, we’ve gotten better, but we’re not near where we need to be yet, which is, again, very different than 30 years ago, where it was like, “Hey, we know what we’re doing. Leave us alone.” Now it’s more, “Well, we can get better.”
David: I completely agree. You had asked a minute ago, “What are all the things that these anti groups are doing all over the place?” One of the things, obviously, they focus on the environment.
They try to create emotional arguments and scare citizens and elected officials all over the country on water contamination, air pollution, just in general concerns about the environment, endangered species, all the things that we all know and have heard.
It’s remarkable that the environmental performance is so profound. The more we all embrace that message that you just talked about…We’re all environmentalists. Here’s the performance. We’re not satisfied. We’re not done yet. Let’s continue to strive for better. Then we get to a place where we can agree with our friends at the Sierra Club and other folks.
We all agree that the environmental performance must be first and foremost. Let’s pivot for a second, friends at the Sierra Club. Let’s talk about energy solutions. What are we doing to meet our individual and community energy solutions.
We have a lot of concerns about the law that was just signed in the state of New York, which basically goes to zero emissions by 2040. No one that I’ve seen has asked the governor or the state legislature in New York State how do they actually intend to get there. They’re not going to use nuclear power. They are decommissioning all their coal fired power plants.
It’s well known that Governor Cuomo won’t permit a natural gas pipeline to bring natural gas produced electricity for his citizens. You can use wind and solar, but they don’t offer the abundant resources that the state needs. I don’t know how that state actually plans to meet its very aggressive emission reduction goals.
They’ve clearly ignored the emission performance that’s already occurred and continues to occur. They have this false argument that they need to totally reinvent their economy in a way that is physically not possible. That was a strange occurrence. We see that all over the place.
Russel: You mentioned before we got on the microphone that there was a lawsuit filed either yesterday or today about Keystone XL.
David: Opposition groups came together and filed a lawsuit over the water permits that were issued and signaled that they’re going to line up and file lawsuits on Endangered Species Act and everything else that they can think of.
I’m just reading the article this morning. There was one quote in there that said, to the effect, “We’ve successively slowed down this pipeline for 10 years, and we’re just getting started.”
Their tactics are really look at the whole life cycle of a pipeline and what does energy delivery mean. If you can slow down energy delivery, then you slow down E&P projects and and the ability to use more oil and natural gas and energy resources throughout the country and throughout the economy.
They look at things like the financing. They start there. You see more and more tax on financial institutions. You look at state and federal permitting and how to slow down those processes. You look at what the FERC is going to do and the permits that are going to be issued there.
Russel: To this theme, David, if you look at a couple of situations, in particular if you look at Colorado and Minnesota, both of those states had spent a great deal of time, energy, and effort to put in some thoughtful, reasoned policy around pipelines and oil and gas.
Then, with a change in the governor’s house, all of a sudden they just disregard what had been decided, determined, and put in place and say, “None of that matters.” It’s frustrating, I think.
David: It is. Ultimately, it comes back to us and putting energy and the environment front center in our voting. You look at the elected officials in the state of Colorado. They had several ballot initiatives that were defeated.
The legislature and the governorship flipped to the other party, to the different party, went from Republican to Democrat or a more moderate Democrat to a more progressive Democrat. They felt like they could just ram these policies down the throats of the Colorado voter.
It’s now up to the Colorado voter to let those political leaders know that they made a mistake. One of the things that I will commend the anti-pipeline, anti-oil and gas groups for is they do a very good job of getting in the face of elected officials at all levels and making those elected officials feel pressure from those groups.
Remember, they are a minority. They are not the majority. We, our position, folks that are listening to this podcast right now, are the majority. It’s up to us to make our position known to elected officials at all levels.
If we are engaged in the political debate, thoughtfully, respectfully, if we continue to show up at public hearings, if we make energy and the environment key parts of our voting process, if we put that front and center, if we continue to have these conversations that balance out this narrative, that’s really when change occurs.
One of the things we’re really focusing on is now looking at ways to move that public opinion in Colorado and in Minnesota and in Michigan and slowly but surely in places like New York and New Jersey.
Russel: It’s interesting. There’s a couple of questions. The first thing I want to ask is who are the audiences that should care about pipelines, other than the operators and those that work with the operators? Who should be interested? Why should they be interested?
David: That’s such a great question. Pipelines and, more broadly, oil and natural gas is like that left tackle on your football team, right? You don’t even notice them until something happens. We’ve got to pay a little more respect to that left tackle. We’re engaged in the communities, attracting more CEA members.
The interesting thing about Consumer Energy Alliance is we’re focused on energy, all forms of energy, but it’s really told from that family perspective, so how does energy impact families at their homes and small businesses in each of these communities.
Obviously, from a family perspective, your electricity and your gasoline, you and I and most of the listeners here should be paying about eight percent of our monthly income on energy, gasoline, electricity.
When you get folks at the poverty level, we’re finding in communities in parts of the country they’re paying 35 or 40 percent of their monthly income on energy, which is certainly not a situation any of us want anyone to be in.
It’s not really an elastic cost. It’s pretty static when you get to a certain level. Finding ways to continue to put downward pressure on the price of electricity, downward pressure on the price of gasoline…
When you get that single mom raising three kids, maybe working two jobs, she might have to make a choice between a gallon of milk or a gallon of gas. That’s not a situation we want to be in.
That’s something we try to educate political leaders at the city council, county council, statewide office, state legislature, federal representative, all the way through, but then more importantly educating that family, that small business, and that community so that they are armed with the information they need to have.
They are not taking that left tackle for granted. They’re paying attention to the left tackle a little bit. They understand what that left tackle means to their pocketbook.
Russel: You mentioned small businesses as well. Do you have statistics as to, for small businesses, what percent of their revenue is related to utilities? I think of something like a dry cleaner. For a dry cleaner, natural gas is a very big part. For a restaurant, for that matter, natural gas can be a very big part of their overall cost.
David: You’re exactly right. I don’t have that straight, linear statistic like we have with families because there’s such a wide swing with small businesses. For many small businesses, particularly those that are members of Consumer Energy Alliance, it’s a top two or three expense. Usually, your employees, now healthcare costs, those are top one or two, and then energy.
Energy can be a top one or two as well. It’s in the top three of most businesses. Some use a lot of energy as a feedstock. Some, like you mentioned, like restaurants, you’re really seeing wild swings when the price of electricity goes up or goes down — in the overhead — for a general, typical restaurant.
These are things that, increasingly, we’re finding more and more of these communities and these community leaders see energy as this vital cog in the wheel and an expense that they have a say in mitigating, if they get ahead of it, if they engage in the political dialogue around energy and pipelines and how to permit more pipelines.
You can really make a one to one equation link. If you fail to build Line 5 in Minnesota, here is what the costs are going to be. If you fail or slow down the Dakota Access Pipeline, here’s what the costs are going to be. If you fail to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, here’s those costs.
All those pipelines, in one level or another, have been or were or continue to be under assault. Getting those pipelines permitted, bringing low cost energy to families and small businesses in these communities is an easy story to tell. We all just need to tell it more.
Russel: You’ve also got farmers, too, particularly the family farm. It’s an unheard-from demographic.
David: Russell, if you go on the Consumer Energy Alliance website, consumerenergyalliance.org, go to campaigns, and then go to our Modernizing Minnesota campaign, we actually have a bunch of ads that you can see online, of farmers in Minnesota and telling the story of the family farm and what energy means to them and how critical the energy prices are, all the points that we were just making.
Russel: It’s interesting. When you talk about the environment and protecting the environment, farmers, in particular, are very interested in the environment because they need healthy land to be able to conduct their business.
David: They do. They see it. They see the improvement to the environment. They are concerned about the environment. They are concerned about their family. They have a great story to tell. They’re passionate about telling it.
We’ve actually been engaged in a lot of rural community dialogues. Increasingly, you’re finding opposition groups are showing up at small town city councils and county councils, urging them to pass resolutions that oppose pipelines or oppose energy in all forms one way or the other.
We’re increasingly going into those same communities, making sure that those elected officials in these rural communities understand the implications. A lot of these opposition groups will go in there and have these conversations in a vacuum, not really tell the full story. In certain cases, you get a resolution that none of us would like to see.
The more we’re engaged at those kind of conversations, it’s very quick. More often than not, we are successful in either pushing back on that resolution or flipping it into a pro energy resolution of some form.
Russel: That leads me to my next question, David. How are you guys getting the word out on this topic?
David: We’re engaged, Russel, in 19 or 20 states right now, in pipeline campaigns in one form or another. A lot of what we do is we’re going to elected officials.
Consumer Energy Alliance has an energy pledge that we’re asking elected officials to sign on to, that basically says, “I, elected official, support all the above energy policies that protect the environment and meet the fundamental basic needs of families and small businesses in my community or my state.”
Very simple, high level. I want Consumer Energy Alliance to be known as that group that’s out there. We’re coming to you as an elected official with our pledge, so get ready.
Russel: Just to elaborate on that, David, that by working at that grassroots level, where the communities are interfacing with their locally elected politicians, that’s really where you move the needle.
Even in a presidential campaign, that’s where the needle gets moved. That’s where the real energy behind a candidate or a policy or a program comes from. It’s at that very much boots on the deck level.
David: Absolutely right. As Consumer Energy Alliance, we’re a national organization. When you get into that individual community, in a sense, who are we? It’s how do we help that community mobilize, and a lot of those businesses in that community and farmers in that community.
It could be organized labor in a given community, families in a given community. Let’s mobilize them to let their elected officials know that they’re paying attention to this issue. They’re watching how those elected officials vote on these issues. There will be consequences for voting to increase energy costs for that family or that small businesses.
If you don’t permit that pipeline, if you don’t do something that allows reasonable, responsible energy to continue to arrive at their homes, then they’re going to vote their conscience on that. It’s really mobilizing those voters, first and foremost, and how do you move voters over election cycles every couple of years.
You have an opportunity to have a national conversation. We’re focused on the national conversation and the local conversation about energy and what it means to the nation and local communities, mobilizing those voters who in turn help us mobilize the elected official all the way down to dog catcher.
It’s moving all those levers in Washington, in the individual states, and now, increasingly, at the city and county level. A lot of our engagement is there because it really starts trickling up to the state representative, to the governor, to the federal representative, all the way through.
Russel: The other thing I think is important to understand about this is that there’s a conversation that occurs at the community level between people who have a common interest, even if they don’t have a common understanding or a common background. They have a common interest in improving the life in their community, that cannot occur other than at that level.
David: Absolutely right. In that they have shared history. That’s one of the great things about America, that you grew up in a small town or you grew up in a big city. You know what’s around that next corner. You remember when that tree was just a sapling.
Russel: When you grew up with somebody, even if they have very different interests and did different things, there is a level of mutual understanding. A big part of this, it’s just very simple education. Did you realize that the cost of getting energy to you matters? Did you realize that here’s all the things that hydrocarbons are providing in your daily life?
David: Absolutely. Another thing that the opposition groups are doing is they’re really trying to capture that emotional appeal. It’s fear based. If you don’t do this, then your children are at risk from environmental degradation of one form or another.
Russel: It’s the old insurance business sales guy. If, God forbid, whatever. Insert comment here, right?
David: Exactly. The flip is also there. If we don’t allow energy and you have that single mom trying to raise three kids and she’s paying 45 percent of her monthly income on energy and is increasingly having a hard time making ends meet, that story needs to be told.
Russel: That’s right.
David: That story absolutely needs to be told. The story of the environmental performance of this nation coupled with the energy dominance of this nation needs to be told. To me, that’s an emotional story.
We have everyone that’s listening to this podcast. Everyone that’s engaged in the energy industry, all the way from upstream to downstream, should take absolute credit and ownership and be proud of the fact that we’re producing more energy, safely and responsibly, in this country.
The environmental performance leads the world. It’s actually a dominant performance. We are energy dominant and environmentally dominant. We need to be able to tell both stories and take pride in what we do.
Russel: That’s right. It’s fine to understand those things that we’re not doing well and where we need to improve, but it’s just as important to understand those things that we are doing well and advocate that, take pride in it.
David: Absolutely. It’s probably an intended consequence, Russel. These anti-energy activists really beat down the community. They’re vocal. They’re shrill. They point fingers. They show up at people’s front yards now.
They’re certainly protesting in front of businesses and industries and companies all over the country, trying to make us, at some level, feel bad about what we do. Their business is fear. They’re raising a lot of money just scaring people.
By some accounts, there was about $500 million dollars spent by anti-energy groups in 2018. We expect, as we run up to the 2020 election cycle, we’ll see even more than that. It’s a big business.
It’s a much bigger business and more money is actually being spent on their side, opposing energy and pipelines, than we’re spending collectively on our side in support of energy and pipelines.
Anybody that says that we’re the big, bad industry and they’re the small guy, they’re selling you something. We need to continue to take pride in what we do and push back on them.
Russel: If somebody wanted to find out more about you and your organization and in particular get access to some of the resources you have for training and education, how would they do that?
David: The simple one is to go to our website, consumerenergyalliance.org, or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from folks. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Our job is to build that army of groups that are beyond the energy space.
We have a lot of energy members and energy production members, but we also have the majority of our members are not producing energy.
Again, it’s labor, and farmers, and transportation, and small business, and manufacturers all over the country that are coming together to tell the story of how energy matters to them and help elected officials and individual voters make sensible choices about energy.
Russel: David, just to wrap this up, when you say families, and small businesses, and farmers, and transportation, i.e., truckers, these are the people that are most affected by energy policy, and they’re the backbone of this country.
Russel: They’re the ones that make things work, so we really owe it to our friends and neighbors to do a better job.
David: It’s a fight. It’s unfortunate that it’s a fight. Like you said, at the front end, it’s probably not going to go away any time soon, but there’s more of us than there are of them and we just need to make our voices heard.
Russel: That’s right. That’s the nature of our…Our founders had some intelligence in what they did. They actually looked to create conflict because I will say, even though I don’t agree with much, if any, of what these adversaries, if you want to call them that, people with the adversarial opinion, are saying, the fact they’re out there saying it does cause us to get better.
David: You’re exactly right. To a certain degree, they perform a service to continue to push the envelope on improving environmental performance. Give them credit for that, but…
Russel: I wish we could do it in a different way. That’s for sure.
David: I completely agree. It’s taken on a whole life of its own that it wasn’t intended to take, and that’s probably a podcast for another day.
Russel: Absolutely. David, thanks for coming back. It’s fun to be getting back to people that were involved very early on when this was an idea that we were undertaking.
I will say the podcast has come a long way. We’ve built a much larger audience, and to some degree, it’s developing a life of its own and we’re having a lot of fun with it. Thanks for joining the conversation.
David: Love it, and congratulations for all your success. This is so much needed, and look forward to doing it again.
Russel: Great. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, and our conversation with David Holt. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
If you have ideas, questions or topics you’d be interested in, please let us know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords