Trump Gives Pipeline Industry a Boost, But Leaders Warn Against Complacency

President Trump is sending strong signals to pipeline companies that it’s all systems go. But those actions could also energize protesters. (Photo: Pipeline construction alongside Pennsylvania state forest roads that were blocked for a day by protesters in the spring of 2014. Kyle Pattison / Public Herald)

Donald Trump’s public support of big pipeline projects is giving the industry a shot in the arm. But it still faces hurdles from state and local opposition, according to industry leaders.

On Tuesday, Trump signed executive orders to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and expedite environmental reviews on some projects. Keystone XL and Dakota Access both stalled under the Obama administration amid protest.

LISTEN: Under Trump, Expect More Protests Over Pipelines

Trump’s executive orders could be good for those and other pipelines, but big multi-state projects also face headwinds from some state governments — and protesters. Alan Armstrong, CEO of the pipeline company Williams, warned the crowd at an industry conference in Pittsburgh Wednesday about getting too complacent.

“We’ve got an administration that’s supportive of our business today,” Armstrong told the audience. “We can be very thankful about announcements like we saw yesterday about DAPL and Keystone. But that is not changing the opposition we have at the local level, and we’re going to continue to see that and it may even enhance it.”

Harry New, oil and gas president for the pipeline construction company Willbros, told the conference that he expects the kinds of protests seen around the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to come to other parts of the country — including Pennsylvania.

“After seeing what’s happened to Keystone and to Dakota Access, it leads you to believe that with all the activity planned for here, you’re going to continue to see the migration of the protesters,” New said. “We’re already seeing that based on the planned activity.”

“We’ve got an administration that’s supportive of our business today. We can be very thankful about announcements like we saw yesterday. But that is not changing the opposition we have at the local level, and we’re going to continue to see that and it may even enhance it.”

The 1,200-mile Dakota Access Pipeline has been put on hold after the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit last year to build a section under the Missouri River. New said that’s the kind of risk pipeline projects now run.

“When you have one segment of a $4-billion pipeline, that segment today is probably less than a quarter of a mile. Without that segment in place, that pipeline’s inoperable.”

As if to illustrate the point, a handful of protesters greeted conference goers outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the conference was held. They held signs protesting the greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas transported in pipelines.

In addition to protesters, states can also present problems for completing pipelines. New York State denied a permit to Williams for the Constitution pipeline last year. And in Pennsylvania, Sunoco Logistics faces permit questions from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection that have delayed its Mariner East 2 project.