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Make North American Energy Infrastructure Great, Says Enbridge CEO

President Trump wants to make America great again, but for Enbridge Inc. CEO Al Monaco, that thinking should extend across the continent for oil and natural gas projects.

The Calgary-based pipeline giant wants to make "North America first," Monaco said Monday on the opening day of CERAWeek by IHS Markit, which is holding court in Houston this week. Alaska GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan also joined Monaco in a panel discussion about upcoming U.S. legislation that could reduce permitting times and make building energy infrastructure more efficient.

"To me, there's no border" when it comes to energy infrastructure, Monaco said. Enbridge is the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, after completing itsmerger last month with Spectra Energy Inc. The massive oil and gas pipeline system crisscrosses the U.S.-Canadian border multiple times and extends into the Gulf of Mexico. More natural gas shipments also are planned to Mexico.

"By working together, I believe Canada and the U.S. will become a global energy force," Monaco said. His optimistic tone is echoed in other panel discussions and in the hallways at the CERAWeek conference, as the oil and gas industry recovers from a stifling two-year downturn.

"There's a 'new energy' around energy," said the Enbridge chief. "Yes, prices have stabilized, but it's really about upstream confidence and a much more constructive debate is taking place on the merits of energy. Because of cost and technological innovation, we're emerging stronger than ever."

However, one thing continues to hold the industry back: timely access to markets.

"I think it's the biggest issue we face as an industry," he said. North America may have "fantastic resources and capability to extract them economically," but equally important is "the connectivity of the Canadian and U.S. energy market."

By connecting the continent's integrated energy system, low-cost and reliable feedstock is available for refineries and petrochemical facilities. Manufacturers in turn see lower energy costs and boost their competitiveness, which can create "energy self-sufficiency and security for the future," he said.

"When I think about energy and how Enbridge feeds industry and consumers, I don’t see a border; I see tremendous synergy that puts North America first on energy." However, regional and global price disparities occur "when we're capacity-short."

As a case in point, he pointed to the U.S. Northeast. Even though the region holds world-class natural gas resources in the Marcellus/Utica shales, it continues to be the highest-priced end-use gas and power market in the country.

"There are many similar disparities," Monaco said. "The reality is that the dynamics of continental energy transportation have changed. The source of new production growth potential is not where it used to be. Drilling and production efficiency plus technology allows us to respond very quickly to price signals...And energy flows are now driven by the need to move supply growth from inland to coastal processing and refining markets for export."

Energy infrastructure has to be viewed from a different angle, he said. "We know how to reverse pipelines, expand their capability and build new ones. The real challenge is opposition to energy development because the main target of that opposition is now the transportation conduit."

A confluence of factors has put the lid on some infrastructure buildout, which Monaco said include climate change issues, heightened community concerns "and outright opposition to fossil fuels supported by increasingly sophisticated opposition. Those issues are driving major permitting delays. What used to take two years now takes four or more."

There's also no predictability in infrastructure processes and timelines, which in turn increase transportation costs and a "higher cost of equity capital" across the energy value chain.

"The broader implication of delayed or curtailed market access is our inability to capitalize on the North American competitive advantage," the CEO said. "If we don’t get better at energy infrastructure, we miss capturing global export opportunities," such as projects to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Canada's west coast. While the U.S. Gulf Coast has a surfeit of LNG export projects in the works, British Columbia's projects continue to be stymied.

To address delays, Enbridge is revamping its efforts, "tilted much more now to engaging local communities," Monaco said. Many pipeline builders in North America, including Williams for example, have community engagement that begins several months before projects are announced.

For Enbridge, it has become "a lifecycle approach where we start way earlier, much more during project concept phase...and it continues through the life of the asset," Monaco said. It will move away from consultation "to actually listening carefully and responding" to stakeholder concerns.

"You need to be able to take advice from communities and change to make projects better," he said. "For example, we’ve found that indigenous and Native American input is very helpful given their connection to the water and land. And we're showing communities and the public that safety and environmental protection are our No. 1 priority."

In addition, the industry and governments involved have to support the independence of permitting agencies to do their jobs, he told the audience. U.S. and Canadian governments also need to mesh some of their policies, ranging from taxation and incentives to research/development and production.

'Rebuild America Now Act'

Sullivan outlined legislation that he may introduce later this month to limit new regulations, put a time limit on federal permit reviews, and create a one-stop shop for processing permits.

The "Rebuild America Now Act," is designed to modernize how the United States approaches permits for pipelines and other projects, Sullivan said.

America is "on the cusp of a major energy renaissance," said the senator. The legislation would not only help the economy and create jobs but also bolster national security. The Trump administration wants to encourage domestic energy opportunities instead of stifling them, he said.

"Nowhere is this problem more of an issue than in constructing our nation's critical energy infrastructure," Sullivan said. The Keystone XL pipeline, designed to carry crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast markets, endured years of "permitting purgatory under the Obama administration."

Permitting delays often have been linked to politics, Sullivan said. The delays have led to a "broken and dysfunctional federal permitting system that has not been seriously modernized" for years.

The proposed legislation would bring more certainty to the permitting process for infrastructure projects. Among other things, changes may include reforming the National Environmental Policy Act, and there could be shorter timelines, Sullivan said. In addition, he said there could be a limit to the number of pages allowed for environmental impact statement documents.

Permitting updates would apply not only to oil and gas projects, but also to renewables proposals. Possible reforms also could tie back to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

None of the potential reforms "are meant to cut corners," Sullivan said. However, he said there needed to be more transparency, balancing economic interests with environmental protection.

The federal government should not be seen as undermining energy opportunities, said the senator. "We feel that it's almost been at war with us" over economic opportunities.

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