President Obama was on the road this week touting the need for infrastructure jobs, and he’s got the story half right. America does have a gaping infrastructure crisis, but fixing this problem wouldn’t cost a penny of taxpayer dollars, never mind hundreds of billions of dollars added to the debt, so the White House probably won’t be interested.
The infrastructure crisis I’m talking about is the shortage of pipelines across America. This one snuck up on us: The drilling revolution that started so unpredictably about five or six years ago is only accelerating and spreading to nearly half the states across the country. Thanks to fracking, horizontal drilling, and other such innovative breakthroughs that enable us to extract a monumental amount of shale oil and gas, our recoverable energy resources have nearly tripled overnight. And some states like Texas and North Dakota have tripled their production.
But if you visit the drilling sites in Williston, N.D., you discover an amazing phenomenon: At night, this little energy town of fewer than 30,000 people lights up like Manhattan on New Year’s Eve. All these lights are flares burning off the natural gas that was drilled that day. Why on earth would the drillers do that? Because they want oil, which sells at $100 a barrel, as opposed to natural gas, which is now so abundant that it’s cheap.
But why don’t they sell the natural gas too? Because they don’t have the pipeline capacity to bring it to the markets where it’s needed. So they are burning off an energy source, without capturing the power. What a waste.
The pipelines aren’t getting built, simply because the government isn’t letting them get built. It has been an eye-opening experience to watch liberals block an infrastructure project — the Keystone XL pipeline — that two of three Americans (and even a plurality of Democrats) support. Pew had an amazing poll last month reporting that just about every demographic group in America supports the Keystone pipeline, except for Democrats with Ph.D.s and Democrats who earn more than $100,000.
But this problem goes well beyond the Keystone pipeline. We need to build in America a national network of pipelines from coast to coast, much as Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. Unlike the highways, the private sector will gladly build the pipelines; they just need the permits. And Uncle Sam won’t give them out.
We are talking about a lot of jobs here — and really high-paying, often union, jobs. Welders and pipe fitters and construction workers and truckers earn $70,000 or more — well above the median salary in America.
But the environmentalists hate pipelines because they encourage drilling, and drilling is bad because it kills windmills, er, the planet. The enviros have been running a campaign in Washington to keep the oil and gas in the ground. And if you can’t transport it, why drill it? These activists are the same sort of people who opposed the Great Alaska Pipeline back in the 1970s. Can you imagine how much we’d be in hock to the Saudis these days if we’d listened to their loopy advice back then?
And since they won’t allow pipelines, we use trains and trucks — which is much worse for the environment than building the pipelines. Remember the rail crash several weeks ago with massive explosions? Thank the Sierra Club.
One man in Washington who gets the economic and ecological necessity of building pipelines and clearing Obama’s regulatory barriers is Marco Rubio. He wants to build infrastructure, create jobs, and help save the environment. What a great message for the GOP in 2014 and 2016.
— Stephen Moore is the chief economist at the Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in the National Review