- - Tuesday, April 10, 2018


With turmoil bubbling from nearly every corner of the world, our policymakers must be leaning forward. Every element of national power (diplomatic, informational, military and economic) must be synchronized to ensure U.S. global leadership on the international stage. To paraphrase President Teddy Roosevelt, a “big stick” is essential but let’s try to keep it in reserve.

Fortunately, the United States is well equipped with one of the most valuable leveraging blocks: ample reserves of clean, affordable energy. Shale development has expanded America’s production prospect, putting the country on track to surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia as the largest crude oil producer within five years. This year crude oil output is expected to exceed 10 million barrels per day (bpd), the first time since 1970, and that production could increase to 12.1 million bpd by 2023, according to the International Energy Agency.

The United States’ remarkable success in reinventing its energy outlook is already having an impact on the global stage. Domestic production has begun to loosen OPEC’s grip on worldwide markets, isolating the oil cartel’s output and export restrictions. It’s largely empowered the White House to enforce sanctions on Russia without fear of retribution on American consumers at the pump.

Even The New York Times conceded earlier this year, “The United States and its allies now have a supply cushion at a time when political turmoil in Venezuela, Libya and Nigeria is threatening to interrupt flows to markets.”

Yet, for all the good U.S. energy production is achieving both at home and overseas, continued growth is hardly a certainty. Many of the gains made over the past decade have come despite domestic policy, not because of it. Worse still, many activists seem more intent on waging an ideological battle against the oil and gas industry rather than acknowledging the undeniable role fossil fuels fill in everyday life and will continue to fill (nearly 80 percent of our domestic demand) for the next three decades.

For too long, a system that has concentrated power over energy development in Washington has fed a thicket of top-down mandates, which in turn has constricted investment and construction. The result is a pinch in mid-stream construction — the pipelines and infrastructure to move resources from production sites to energy-hungry markets.

In 2015, President Obama’s Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) concluded that $3.5 billion of infrastructure investment is needed per year through 2030 to keep up with U.S. natural gas production growth. Yet, the American Action Forum found last year that the average permitting process takes 70 months to complete. As a result, the country depends largely on an aging pipeline network, 50 percent of which was built prior to 1960.

The Trump administration deserves credit for cutting red tape for builders, undoing the complexities of the regulatory process and putting greater control in the hands of local communities. But such progress has been met with vigilantism from extremists within the environmental community. Oddly, their tactics often conflict with their purported mission and put the environment and everyday individuals at greater risk.

As a recent Wall Street Journal editorial notes, the far-left has made a special cause of disrupting pipeline construction. Their objective presumes that if they can disturb energy transportation, they can prevent oil and gas production entirely. And they have frequently resorted to destructive and self-fulfilling means to achieve their ill-conceived ends. But make no mistake, there should be no toleration for the kind of aggression these groups have carried out, no matter what name they are enacted under.

One of the crowning achievements of U.S. energy producers is their ability to respond quickly to market dynamics. That capacity gives a strong advantage over state-run counterparts overseas. Yet, American producers and infrastructure builders can only do so much in the face of policy that works against them.

As threats from abroad continue to mount, our energy independence at home takes on an even greater imperative. Policymakers at the state and local level, empowered by greater control handed down from Washington, should focus on creating a level playing field in which the rules are firm and clear, and on which U.S. energy producers can continue to thrive.

James “Spider” Marks, a retired U.S. Army major general, is president of the Marks Collaborative.

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