As a historic energy revolution continues to unfold in the United States, it is increasingly clear that our outdated and insufficient infrastructure may hold us back from fully capitalizing on it. While abundant oil and natural gas resources and the current oversupplied crude market translate to cheaper energy for consumers, the excess needs to be stored for the current production capacity to remain active—but this storage infrastructure is rapidly approaching maximum capacity.
In fact, according to a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysis, crude oil storage in the U.S. could be completely occupied by the end of March or early April. With inventories at 80-year highs, hitting capacity would cause prices to plummet—which might be good for consumers in the short-term, but would cause ripple effects across the energy industry and could hurt long-term production.
Building more storage capacity would help mitigate the problem, but it’s also very expensive. This is where master limited partnerships (MLPs) can play a critical role. MLPs were created more than 25 years ago and authorized by Congress to stimulate financing in capital-intensive industries. MLP companies are primarily engaged in midstream energy activities (pipeline construction, storage, processing, terminal facilities, etc.), and are an integral way that our nation’s private sector finances the construction of new energy infrastructure assets.
Raising the billions in capital needed for additional energy storage is a key part in achieving an even more important objective — genuine energy security. We find ourselves blessed with the natural resources needed for self-sufficiency, but now the U.S. needs to make the investments required to turn our energy potential into purpose.
That investment will be significant. ICF International notes that the U.S. and Canada will require a total investment of $641 billion in natural gas, crude oil, and natural gas liquids infrastructure by 2035. In response, over the past several years more than 20 new MLPs have been established. These new MLPs are working to ensure a wide variety of energy products make their way efficiently and safely from the production fields to American homes, businesses and communities. In 2014 alone, MLPs invested more than $29 billion across the country—helping the U.S. better harness the energy resources needed to drive our economy and power our future.
Our political leaders in Washington understand the crucial role energy infrastructure plays in moving our economy forward. However, in order to ensure MLPs help meet rising demand, it’s imperative that politicians continue to foster a favorable regulatory environment that incentivizes investment and infrastructure construction.
MLPs won’t single-handedly solve our energy infrastructure and storage issues, but they’re an essential element to fully harnessing America’s bright energy future.
Mary Lyman is executive director of the National Association of Publicly Traded Partnerships (NAPTP), the nation’s only association representing MLPs.