The agriculture and energy industries depend on each other. Farms and ranches need oil and natural gas for everything from fuels and fertilizers to vaccines and pesticides.
For energy companies, farmers and ranchers aren’t just consumers. With most oil and gas produced on and transported across private lands, their ability to operate would be severely limited without the cooperation of rural landowners.
Unfortunately, pipeline land access issues have become highly polarized and contentious. The safe daily delivery of millions of barrels of liquids and billions of cubic feet of gas by pipeline is one reason why U.S. consumers enjoy some of the lowest energy costs in the developed world. In 2016, U.S. retail diesel prices were the lowest of any OECD nation, averaging less than the cost of a gallon of milk, according to government figures.
In rural America, prosperity is based on crop and livestock production, which relies on products derived from pipeline-shipped oil and gas. What’s good for the farmer or rancher should be good for the pipeline operator, and vice versa. Instead of standing on opposite sides of the fence screaming at the other side, why don’t we all jump on the fence and have a conversation about aligning our interests?
I come from an agricultural background and live in a small Kansas town, where most people work the soil or raise cattle or hogs for a living. I understand their concerns about having oil spilled in a pasture or pipeline workers disturbing cropland. However, I’m also confident in the safety of our pipelines. Statistically, there is no safer or cleaner means of transportation. Industry data shows that a barrel of oil shipped by pipeline safely reaches its destination 99.999 percent of the time. Gas systems are equally reliable.
Yet, the public’s perception of pipelines is poor, driven by misconceptions, negative press and politics. It isn’t the years of accident-free operations on thousands of miles of pipelines across the country that make headlines, but the one day when something goes wrong on one length of pipe. That’s understandable, but protecting people and the environment is job one for pipelines.
Third-party inspection and testing service contractors like XCEL NDT LLC work hard every day to prevent failures that could be harmful to people or the land they depend on for their livelihoods. The employees of my company and others involved in pipeline safety live, work and raise their families in the same beloved communities as farmers and ranchers. We share the goal of zero safety incidents.
Pipeline operators go above and beyond minimum requirements to make sure systems are safe, not just for their own benefit, but also for landowners and residents along pipeline rights of way. Pipelines are proactively monitored 24/7 using the best available technologies. If a potential issue is detected, a contractor is called out for detailed inspection to mitigate any HS&E risk.
Before a section of pipe is dug up for inspection, pipeline representatives meet with landowners to explain the work scope and negotiate scheduling. Pipelines do everything in their power to restore the land and provide compensation when necessary, such as for damaged crops.
Work is conducted according to precise procedures, and environmental protection is a priority from the moment a crew arrives on location. All pipeline and contractor personnel are trained in land conservation and are contractually required to restore dig sites to original condition. It is not uncommon for a dig site to be restored to better than original by adding topsoil, new fencing, etc.
Energy, farming and ranching are essential to the lives of every U.S. citizen, and to people around the world who count on our energy and agricultural exports. Let’s come together to strengthen the partnership between pipelines and rural landowners and maintain America’s position as the global leader in agriculture as well as oil and gas.
—Cole Morehead is owner and president of XCEL NDT LLC Clifton, Kansas.