Gas Infrastructure Commission Legislation Prompts Worries

By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor | October 2008 Vol. 63 No. 10

With Congress almost certain to pass a bill revising or eliminating its longstanding ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, interstate natural gas pipelines are trying to insure that any bill does not include an amendment setting up a national commission which would examine the adequacy of current federal policies governing the siting of natural gas infrastructure.

Such an amendment is lurking in the background, being promoted by Reps. Tim Bishop (D NY) and Elijah E. Cummings (D MD) who call their bill (H.R. 6720) the Natural Gas Strategy Act.

"Placement of natural gas infrastructure should not be run like a deli counter, where it's first come, first served,'" says Bishop, vice chair of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Cummings chairs that subcommittee, although the bill was referred to the Energy & Commerce Committee, which neither man sits on. That could complicate the bill's movement forward. Rep. Rick Boucher (D VA), is chairman of the energy and air quality subcommittee in the Energy & Commerce Committee. He will be the major decision maker on the Natural Gas Strategy Act, if he keeps that position in 2009.

While passage of the Bishop/Cummings bill in 2008 is probably a long shot, its odds of passage would increase in 2009. INGAA opposes the bill. "Unfortunately, H.R. 6720 attempts to fix a process that isn't broken," says INGAA President Donald F. Santa, Jr. "The direction signaled by this legislation would be to turn the clock back decades to an era of excessive government regulation and energy shortages. Such a policy will not result in natural gas infrastructure getting built on a timely basis; rather, it will lead to delay, litigation, supply constraints and higher natural gas prices."