As oil and natural gas production have boomed throughout the country, pipeline operators are struggling to catch up.
Much of the new activity is in areas like North Dakota and Ohio, where large-scale production pipeline infrastructure previously did not exist. In some parts of south Texas and western Oklahoma, new production has overwhelmed the available pipeline networks.
TransCanada's politically charged Keystone XL pipeline has attracted the attention of both environmental organizations and industry groups. The line would move crude from Canada's oil sands in Alberta to Cushing, where it would continue on to the Gulf Coast.
Five years after TransCanada announced plans for the pipeline, the Obama administration still has neither approved nor rejected the proposed line.
In the meantime, however, other options have sprung up.
Rail plays role
Producers in the area increasingly are turning to rail, which has connected North Dakota with refineries to the east and west, but has drawn scrutiny after train accidents and explosions over the past year.
Other pipeline projects also are planned or are underway.
Canada-based Enbridge Inc. has begun work on expanding its existing line that moves oil from the Chicago area and to Cushing and then to the Gulf Coast. Construction began in the fall on Enbridge's Flanagan South construction project, a 600-mile line from Chicago to Cushing.
With a capacity of 600,000 barrels per day, the new pipe will run mostly parallel to Enbridge's Spearhead line, which has capacity of 175,000 barrels per day.
“North America has an opportunity to be energy independent because of sources like Alberta and the Bakken,” Enbridge spokeswoman Lorraine Little said. “These are supplies that are secure and reliable. Customers and refiners want access to that reliable crude, which means they import less from Venezuela and OPEC.”
Environmental groups have opposed the pipeline projects, saying they increase the country's dependence on oil and pose environmental risks.
“We're in the business of trying to accelerate the pace at which America gets off oil,” said Michael Marx, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign. “Oil is such a major contributor to greenhouse gases, particularly in the United States. We're basically in the business of doing everything possible to make it economically more feasible to transfer clean energy.”