MIDLAND, Texas—The energy industry has had to deal with “a new Congress and new problems” in 2019 following last November’s elections that flipped the House of Representatives to the Democrats. So it’s important that industry trade organizations continue to make their case in the nation’s capital since many legislative freshmen know little of the oil and gas business and many are openly hostile to it.

Those were among the insights of Charlotte Sawyer, manager of government affairs, GPA Midstream, in her June 6 presentation to Hart Energy’s Midstream Texas conference and exhibition. She cautioned that “fines and penalties have the potential to cripple the energy industry,” so telling the industry’s story remains vitally important no matter who’s on Capitol Hill. For many in Congress and the regulatory bodies, “they’ve never found a regulation they want to kill,” even if those rules are obviously ill-conceived and unfair, she said.

Sawyer outlined four current industry challenges in Washington, D.C.:

  • The Democrat-proposed Green New Deal;
  • Pipeline safety reauthorization;
  • Regulatory reform; and
  • Political nominations by the Trump administration that remain at a standstill in the Senate, which must approve each name.

She rated the highly publicized Green New Deal as “bad news for everybody” since it sets unattainable goals for renewable energy sources to replace carbon-based energy. Pipeline safety reauthorization and regulatory reform are more promising areas for the industry, she said, “because both sides are adamant that changes need to be made.”

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The stalled approval of President Trump’s nominations for regulatory agencies is a major headache, Sawyer said. “Imagine trying to run a business without any managers or directors.” Interparty quibbling over nominations is nothing new, of course, “but it has never been slower than now.”

GPA Midstream’s Washington, D.C., office has pushed for close work with regulatory agencies since it opened in 2014, including the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sawyer said. That’s because in several cases, agencies were writing new regulations that applied to NGL processors and pipelines without any input from the firms that would be impacted.

“We have an increasing GPA profile in Washington, connecting with high-level officials,” she added.

Two particular issues GPA Midstream has focused on are the Quad OOOOa methane emissions rule and the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) statute.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work on WOTUS to [ensure] it does not negatively affect our members,” Sawyer emphasized.

Sawyer also gave conference attendees a review of the association’s activities during the 2019 Texas legislative session, which ended just a few days before the conference opened.

She rated it an “active session with a flurry of activity at the end. Everyone waits until the last minute.”

Senate Bill 421, which would have modified the state’s eminent domain regulations, died in conference. State Rep. Tom Craddick, a Republication whose district includes Midland, noted the hotly contested issue will come up again in the legislature’s 2021 session.

Another plus for the energy business was the stoppage of House Bill 564, “which would have changed the definition of heavy equipment to exclude compressor stations. It would have resulted in an additional tax burden for midstream facilities,” Sawyer said.

House Bill 3557 passed—an important victory for the industry, she said. The bill applies to liability for damages to critical industry infrastructure, such as pipelines and compressor stations. “It holds those who damage critical infrastructure liable for damages, as well as holds vicariously liable those who pay groups that caused any damages.”

Paul Hart can be reached at pdhart@hartenergy.com.