Out of sight, out of mind — until they aren’t — pipelines are as yet a necessary piece of the nation’s energy puzzle, moving oil and natural gas from their origins to refineries, and thence into our gas tanks, stoves, roads, roofs and more.
But against a backdrop of heightened environmental and climate-change awareness, crude oil pipelines now also carry controversy, raising the stakes for the states, which are more or less on their own when it comes to regulating the siting of such pipelines (as long as their regulations aren’t pre-empted by applicable federal laws).
Companies that operate pipelines come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. And once pipelines are operational, the U.S. Pipeline Safety Act assigns oversight to the Office of Pipeline Safety (housed within the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration).
The latest pipeline to make headlines is the Dakota Access Pipeline, a planned 1,134-mile underground pipe from the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota that would run through South Dakota and Iowa to the Patoka Tank Farm in south central Illinois. If/when completed, the $3.7 billion pipeline is projected to carry more than 450,000 barrels of fracked crude oil per day.