Explore policy mechanisms for permitting carbon transportation infrastructure in the final Decarbonizing the West initiative webinar

Permitting carbon transport infrastructure “is nonnegotiable if we're serious about decarbonizing in this country,” Scyller Borglum, the Underground Storage Market Lead at WSP, said during the final Decarbonizing the West initiative webinar on April 17.

To reduce inefficiencies within the permitting process, which can take decades, Borglum and her co-panelist, Harry Warren, a Senior Consultant at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Loans Program Office, said more regulatory certainty, interagency coordination, and communication are key. 

With most pipeline projects crossing a patchwork of ownerships and jurisdictions, both panelists said it’s critical to have a “point person” within the federal government who will help coordinate the different agencies that oversee various parts of a project. But while there are several programs in the federal government designed to help developers navigate this bureaucracy, interstate pipelines must also meet a dizzying array of state guidelines.

“Everybody in the energy industry right now feels that the permitting process is painfully slow and frustrating,” Borglum said. “I am acutely aware of the importance of having environmental assessments and environmental impact statements… We want to know that the t's have been crossed and the I's have been dotted but I would argue that we need to take a good, hard look at what is not effective, what's slowing us down beyond doing our due diligence.”

A good first step, Borglum and Warren said, is for the federal government to provide additional regulatory certainty about accepted pipeline pressures, pipe thickness, the depth at which pipelines must be buried, and how close they can be to a community, which many expect to be addressed in a forthcoming rulemaking from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“I think that will be something that communities and the states can look to and rely on as a new set of standards that, as long as they are complied with, will raise people's feelings that there aren't safety issues related to transportation that are not well understood,” Warren said. “I certainly think that the extent of our process is one that people should feel good about the breadth and completeness of.”

But while effectively communicating the safety of these pipelines is important, it’s just as important to relay the community benefits these pipelines provide. Developing community benefit plans is a critical requirement for any application in front of the DOE Loans Program Office, Warren said, and considering these benefits is also key to maintaining the social license needed to operate in communities throughout the nation, Borglum added.        

Doing so, they agreed, will not only reduce the burden of applying for permits and ease safety concerns within the surrounding communities, but it will also increase outside investment and ultimately entice new players to enter the market.

The very fact that these kinds of conversations are happening is reason for excitement.

“The technology is there,” Borglum said. “This has been around for over 40 years… we know how to move this forward through all of the permitting processes, and I think that going forward is a collective move to optimize the process. The more efficiently we can get this done, the more everybody wins. I am very excited because I think this is the next step in the United States taking a leadership role in collecting emissions, putting them in a safe place, and not losing her stride in terms of energy security and energy independence.”

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