When It Comes to Energy, Alabama’s Future Is Now

By CAM WARD / Guest Columnist

Governor Robert Bentley recently appointed me to serve on the Industrial Energy Advisory Team. As the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, and a member of the Permanent Joint Task Force on Energy, energy issues play a dominant part in my daily policy arena. It is an area I have always been interested in – and one I see playing a large part in shaping the future of our world, our country and our state.

America is currently in the middle of an energy renaissance. Who would have thought just 10 years ago that we would be discussing the notion of an energy independent nation. With the advent of newer and cleaner technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, and the discovery of large deposits of shale gas and bituminous coal in northern and western states, America is set to become not only energy independent, but a net energy exporter – if we allow business and entrepreneurs to develop our resources and the infrastructure to transport the raw material.

This is where Alabama comes in – We have a chance to become a nation where we can become energy independent in the area of energy production. Exports for the first time have the chance of exceeding imports. This was unheard of just a decade ago.  Or we can just let it happen to us in a hodge-podge kind of manner. There are personal and environmental safety questions that need to be addressed, including – how do we make sure that railroad and pipeline transportation means are protected, workers are kept safe, and that the transporters have the wherewithal, and emergency planning procedures in place to deal with inevitable accidents? Can we make sure Alabama Department of Environmental Management can protect our pristine environments used for the outdoor activities like hunting, fishing and hiking with the expansion of energy infrastructure? We need to put some elbow grease and intellectual capital into answering these questions before other states surpass us, and before there is a situation that we do not have the proper infrastructure or procedures in place to manage.

One major issue I see being a challenge is the over-capacity of our rail system while pipeline development to refinery production continues to lag. States such as North Dakota are already experiencing this problem. With our state of the art coastal ports ready to export the nation’s energy resources to the rest of the world, we must be prepared to have the most advanced and safest methods of energy transportation available. Infrastructure upgrades must be a part of any energy development to ensure public safety and economic viability.

As always, I remain optimistic about our energy future as Alabamians and Americans – together we can tackle these issues, create jobs and help our country achieve energy independence.