Embrace our energy opportunity

Economic issues will be front and center in President Trump’s first State of the Union address, followed by endless debate over which economic achievements the administration can claim as its own. While the pundits hash that out, here’s a theory to consider: Powerhouse performance from the U.S. oil and natural gas industry is the often unsung hero of American economic growth.

Over the course of the past decade, the nation’s natural gas and oil industry – made up of more than 10 million hard-working men and women – accomplished what many thought impossible. Our industry employed advanced technology and the best of the American entrepreneurial spirit to move the nation from energy scarcity to energy abundance. We have played a leading role in reducing energy costs for American families and businesses, spurring a manufacturing renaissance, strengthening the nation’s energy security and slashing U.S. carbon emissions even as the market has soared to record highs.

With the right policies in place, we can ensure our era of energy abundance is only beginning. The administration’s newly released five-year plan, which considers new areas for development in the outer continental shelf (OCS), represents an important step forward. Existing policy has kept 94 percent of federal offshore waters off limits to exploration.

Providing greater access to the OCS is an important acknowledgement that U.S. offshore operations are safer than ever before. Pursuing our offshore potential will not only help us meet our energy needs of the future, but generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and further reduce our dependence on overseas energy.

Government estimates indicate 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be awaiting discovery on the OCS. Based on our experience producing energy in the Gulf of Mexico, where production has far exceeded resource estimates, the resource potential on the OCS could be even greater. Now is the time to find out.

The administration’s focus on infrastructure is another important opportunity to seize the potential offered by our industry. Infrastructure isn’t just roads and bridges. And smart infrastructure policy isn’t just about finding public money to fund these projects. As the administration and Congress look to tackle infrastructure, we encourage them to remember energy infrastructure – which doesn’t rely on taxpayer dollars. With the right policies in place, our industry can unleash private investment that will lead to greater reliability, safety, security and affordability.

According to a recent study, private investment in U.S. energy infrastructure like oil and natural gas pipelines could surpass $1 trillion and support more than 1 million jobs per year through 2035. But this investment is incumbent upon policies that provide certainty for infrastructure development and promote meaningful public input without allowing the process to be hijacked by those opposed to all natural gas and oil infrastructure.

Unfortunately, there are consequences to infrastructure opposition. This winter, New Englanders have been subject to some of the most expensive natural gas and electricity prices in the country because politics has stood in the way of building the pipelines needed to alleviate self-imposed infrastructure constraints. This is wholly unnecessary. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of natural gas. We have an abundant, affordable supply, but we are handcuffing our ability to use it if we can’t build the infrastructure to get production to communities that need it. Policies that elevate the needs of consumers can open the door to infrastructure investments that ensure every American can benefit from our energy abundance.

Finally, we must also be careful to pursue trade policies that allow us to use our growing energy production to drive economic growth here at home and improve the energy security of our allies. Achieving greater energy security means ensuring we can use trade to reduce the influence of nations that would use energy exports as geopolitical leverage while also harnessing the investment and job creation that comes with access to global markets. Congress and the Trump administration enhanced U.S. economic growth and competitiveness through pro-growth tax reform, and we can build on that with policies that encourage energy trade, not impede it.

The opportunity afforded by our vast energy resources should be a place of political consensus. The natural gas and oil industry has already proven that we can reduce energy costs for consumers, strengthen our energy security and achieve remarkable environmental progress. Let’s keep moving forward through policies that encourage greater production, reduce barriers to infrastructure investment and strengthen our ability to shape and benefit from global energy markets.

Gerard is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.

This opinion piece was articled by Jack Gerard, president and CEO of API, for The Hill. Click here to read it on the publication's website.