Several trade associations representing the oil and natural gas industry applauded President Trump for signing an executive order (EO) directing the federal government to expedite its review and permitting of major infrastructure projects.
But in separate statements, the associations -- specifically, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Association of Oil Pipe Lines (AOPL) -- warned that the industry needs regulatory certainty before committing capital needed to build oil and gas pipelines, and that a myriad of federal agencies must ultimately agree to streamline their permitting processes in order for the EO to succeed.
Shortly after Trump signed the EO on Tuesday, API President Jack Gerard said the measure was an important step in shortening the federal permitting process, which the industry and Trump have both said are too long and an impediment to energy development and creating jobs.
"Ensuring we have a robust energy infrastructure system that protects the environment and keeps pace with growing production and demand is essential to helping American families and businesses have reliable access to affordable energy," Gerard said. "The business community, including the oil and natural gas industry, relies upon a cost-effective regulatory system that promotes the certainty and predictability necessary to make the massive capital investments required to bring energy and other projects to the U.S. economy.
"We welcome the administration's action to streamline the regulatory process in developing and transporting our nation's oil and natural gas resources. It is good for our economy, consumers, and strengthening our national security."
INGAA CEO Don Santa told NGI's Shale Daily that his organization was pleased with the EO's provisions to hold federal agencies accountable for their roles in environmental reviews of infrastructure projects.
"The direction signaled by the EO is consistent with INGAA's interstate natural gas pipeline infrastructure priorities and efforts in the current Congress to perfect the provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 via legislation, such as the House-passed HR 2910," Santa said Wednesday. HR 2910 calls for strengthening FERC's lead agency role and further defines the process for federal and state regulatory agencies involved in the permitting process for interstate natural gas pipelines. The bill passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in July.
"Of course, accomplishing the stated goals of the EO will depend on the commitment of the wide range of federal offices with a role in infrastructure permitting," Santa said. "We are hopeful that these federal offices will share a commitment to achieving the ends sought by the EO."
AGA CEO Dave McCurdy said Wednesday that natural gas "is a critical piece of the energy future for our nation, and streamlining the infrastructure process to help ensure more Americans can use this clean, efficient fuel in their homes and businesses is critical."
AOPL spokesman John Stoody added that "there is no reason thorough, environmentally protective federal reviews of proposed pipeline projects need to take as long as they do now. We hope these changes will bring a meaningful improvement to our ability to provide jobs for American workers and build new pipeline project."
What the EO contains
The EO calls for the director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to work with the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC) within 180 days to establish cross-agency priority (CAP) goal on streamlining the infrastructure permitting process. It stipulates that environmental reviews and authorizations by federal agencies for major infrastructure projects "should be reduced to not more than an average of approximately two years."
OMB and FPISC will also have 180 days to "issue guidance for establishing a performance accountability system to facilitate achievement of the CAP goal." That system will use a scoring mechanism to track federal agencies' progress on infrastructure projects.
The EO also includes a "one federal decision" provision, which will be used to determine whether an infrastructure project goes forward. OMB and the White House's Council on Environmental Quality with develop the framework for implementing the provision, with consultation by FPISC.
"Each major infrastructure project shall have a lead federal agency, which shall be responsible for navigating the project through the federal environmental review and authorization process, including the identification of a primary federal point of contact at each federal agency," the EO states. "All federal cooperating and participating agencies shall identify points of contact for each project, cooperate with the lead federal agency point of contact, and respond to all reasonable requests for information from the lead federal agency in a timely manner."
Under the EO, the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture departments will be the lead agencies, where appropriate, "for facilitating the identification and designation of energy right-of-way corridors on federal lands for government-wide expedited environmental review for the development of energy infrastructure projects."
DOI was also ordered to provide OMB with "a strategy and recommendations for a multi-agency reorganization effort that would further the aims" contained in the EO.