In this article we are going to list the 15 longest pipelines in the US. Click to skip ahead and jump to the 5 longest pipelines in the US. Most Americans probably know about pipelines from what they see and hear about them on the news. A lot of people are protesting about the construction of pipelines in the U.S. especially the environmental activists due to pipelines’ harmful effect, but what most people might not realize is that there’s probably a pipeline in nearly every part of America right under their feet.
According to Bloomberg Law’s Ellen Gilmer in a documentary by Bloomberg, pipelines are a kind of invisible infrastructure that are used to move gas and oil and all the products related to it from the ground where they are extracted to where they end up being used. Oil is the most endeavored commodityof the 20th century but today, a series of high-profile legal setbacks are being faced by the sector in some areas in the United States. An example is the Keystone XL Pipeline which stays blocked (U.S. Supreme Court’s order) and the Dakota Access Pipeline that is expected to be shut down. Due to the combined legal problems and difficulties, some people in the industry are left asking if it is still possible to build pipelines in America?
Over the years, oil and pipelines got more sophisticated as the country grew. The need for more energy has increased which is why pipelines also proliferated. More than 2.6 million miles of pipelines form a hidden energy superhighway below the surface of America. These pipelines got contentious because of the problems they brought out. Leaks, spills, and land battles are some of the complications that made tensions between the pipelines and the communities it traverse. In the early 2000s, fracking was introduced to the public and it caused an unprecedented build-up of oil and gas pipelines across the country. For those who do not know, “fracking is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc. so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas” (source: Lexico).
Alexandra Class, who teaches and writes about environmental law at the University of Minnesota Law School, says that the fracking boom followed by a pipeline boom to carry all the new energy produced has led to a litigation boom. “You start to see lots of opposition from private property rights advocates, landowners, and others to this infrastructure.” she marked. The country’s top environmental groups backed many of those lawsuits. They think that shutting down pipelines is key to their fight against climate change. These groups basically want 2 things which are to stop the pipelines and stop the drilling. There are certain strategies that these groups have used to challenge the pipelines for the two main types of hydrocarbons they deliver, gas and oil.
The oil pipelines look like they are a part of the national infrastructure plan but it’s actually up to the states to regulate them. We need to understand that there are different rules in each state. As per Alexandra Class, there are states where it is much easier to secure a pipeline permit like Texas wherein all you need to do is check a box saying you are a common carrier and you get to build your pipeline and use a notable domain but there are also states that requires more effort and legal procedures like Minnesota or Illinois where these pipelines are obliged to get a certificate of need or permit from a State Regulatory Agency. This state by state approach creates a big problem for pipeline builders. “If you’re building a multi-state oil pipeline, you need approval from multiple states” she added. For example, a pipeline connecting oil fields in North Dakota with transfer terminals in Illinois would require the pipeline to travel through North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. These pipelines would also traverse over tribal lands through waterways and under public and private lands. Each of the crossings requires separate permits and creates an opportunity for the other party to challenge the project. Talking about the Dakota Access Pipeline, after years of protests and lawsuits over the pipeline’s proximity to a reservation, a federal judge ruled that the pipeline must be shut down pending further environmental review until an appeals court reversed the order, but the threat of a shutdown is still around the corner.
Speaking about natural gas, unlike oil, it can’t be easily shipped in ordinary vehicles and pipelines have historically been the only way to move it. Since there are concerns about the monopoly that gives the ability to some individuals to control the flow of gas and its price, Congress passed the natural gas act of 1938. The Federal Government has regulated gas pipelines since then. Today, a natural gas company wanting to build an interstate pipeline does not anymore need approval from the different states that it will traverse, instead, it only must get a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission(FERC). “That’s a huge process in itself. You have to go through environmental review process, you have to show that the pipeline is actually needed and that it is serving the public.” stated Ellen Gilmer. She also said that they also have to get all the other kinds of miscellaneous permits for impacts that these pipelines might potentially have on the environment, environmental justice communities, historical artifacts along the route. According to Alexandra, “Each of those permits– you can think about them as pressure points to the extent that you extend out the permitting process and the litigation for whether it’s an oil pipeline or a natural gas pipeline, that can threaten the viability of the project”. On the other hand, Dominion and Duke Energy canceled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline last July 2020 after years of delay and increasing costs. Meanwhile, after more than a decade of becoming the first caused celebrity of the ‘modern anti-pipeline movement’, Keystone XL Oil Pipeline still hasn’t been built. “In all the different legal challenges to oil and gas pipelines over the past decade, challengers to pipelines have had a lot ‘more success’ than industry lawyers expected. There were big construction delays with a lot of pipelines because of litigations.” said Ellen, referring to the clashes of the two groups involved.
Legal setbacks and historically low oil prices have steered some in the oil industry to interrogate and wonder if pipelines still make economic sense. A clean energy future that relies on solar wind and other carbon-free power is likely to be constructed in a few more years, and due to the fact that America still needs to power its cities, its homes and cars then we must expect that in the meantime, pipelines will still operate and will be continually built.
If you search Google for the longest pipelines in the US, there is little information available, even though they are important to the biggest oil and natural gas companies in the world. Sure, you might find the longest pipelines in the world, which aren’t in the US and are transnational pipelines, but for pipelines that belong to the US alone, scarce information was found. However, scouring the internet for research ended with us finding the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which is an official body of the government. Even going through the website gave precious little information on the longest pipelines other than interactive maps. We finally found documents for both oil and gas pipeline projects in the US, both which are completed and those which are announced and / or in progress. Since the data was only at a project level rather than a pipeline level, we accumulated all projects for each pipeline, to determine the individual length of each pipeline. The length of oil pipelines far outweighed the length of gas pipelines, which is why our list is dominated by the former and not the latter. One important thing to note here is, that length does not definitively correlate to capacity and some pipelines may be longer but their capacity can be less than other pipelines. So now without further ado, let’s take a look at the longest pipelines in the US, starting with number 15:
15. Spearhead Pipeline
Cumulative length of the pipeline in miles (completed projects): 650
The Spearhead Pipeline was developed by Enbridge and has a capacity of 190,000 barrels a day.