Editorials, Opinion

Leave pipeline behind to advance permitting reform

On Dec. 8, a section of the Keystone Pipeline passing through Kansas ruptured, spilling 14,000 barrels (about 588,000 gallons) of crude oil across farmland and into a creek.

Just a couple days later, Sen. Joe Manchin was throwing a fit because his “Building American Energy Security Act of 2022” — better known as the side-deal that got him to vote for the Inflation Reduction Act — wasn’t added into the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act. Manchin’s bill would “streamline” the permitting process for a variety of energy projects, but it also mandates the completion of the highly controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Environmental groups and locals in the pipeline’s path have been fighting hard against the MVP since it was first announced in 2014. Despite protests and legal challenges, construction began in 2018 and nearly 94% of the 303-mile long pipeline has already been completed.

It’s no wonder that opponents decry the environmental and human impacts of the MVP — all they have to do is look at the Keystone Pipeline to see their own future.

The Keystone experienced 22 spills or leaks from 2010, when it became operational, to 2020. Most of those were 50 barrels or less, but there have been several massive spills. In 2011, 16,800 gallons spilled in Ludden, N.D.; just as much spilled in Freeman, S.D., in 2016. Then in 2017, a crack likely caused during the pipeline’s installation finally ruptured and over 400,000 gallons of crude oil were released onto surrounding farmland. In 2019, an “atypical seam” in a stretch of pipeline near Edinburg, N.D., caused it to leak 383,000 gallons of oil.

Last week’s spill in Kansas is the Keystone’s largest leak to date. The rupture happened about 15 feet from a farmer’s fence line, and the fields he uses to graze cattle have been saturated and dyed black. The oil flowed down his land and into Mill Creek, which runs along and through other farms. Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency reports the creek does not feed into a major drinking water source; however, the local farmers are concerned about groundwater contamination.

In light of the ecological disaster coming out of Kansas, perhaps Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who sponsored a similar bill, should stop pushing the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The remaining permitting reform measures  have received equal praise and criticism from both sides of the political aisle: streamlining and accelerating the process could help fossil fuels, but it could also help renewable energy; setting firm deadlines would keep projects from being drawn out over decades, but a shortened window to bring opposing litigation could hamper public input.

There is surely room to compromise when it comes to the procedural guidelines, but many Democratic lawmakers and their constituents are drawing the line at the explicit favoritism shown to the MVP and the mandates within the bills that would run roughshod over communities and courts. If Manchin and Capito could let go of the MVP and leave it to fight its own battles, then perhaps the other permitting reforms could pass.