Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Boswell stresses need to study nation's fuel pipelines

Stress corrosion cracking--that's probably not a phrase you're familiar with, but it is something that has been weighing heavily on the minds of ethanol producers in Iowa.

Stress corrosion cracking in pipelines is blamed as a major reason why ethanol cannot currently be pumped from the Midwest through the nation's existing pipeline infrastructure. Finding a solution to that problem is a goal of renewable fuels advocates as the production and use of ethanol contiinues to grow.

Just this morning, new legislation was announced that would provide funding for a federal study to determine the challenges involved with pumping ethanol and other renewable fuels through the nation's pipeline infrastructure. The study will also determine the feasibility of constructing a pipeline system dedicated to renewable fuels.

Congressman Leonard Boswell announced the introduction of the Ethanol Infrastructure Expansion Act today at a press conference in Pleasant Hill. The conference was held at Magellan Pipeline Company, a major fuel distribution hub for the region.

According to Boswell, the legislation is being co-sponsored by Republican Congressman Jerry Moran of Kansas. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

"This bill is a necessary first step in bringing ethanol to the rest of the country," said Boswell. "We need to break our bondage to OPEC."

Magellan Pipeline's government and media affairs director Bruce Heine thanked Boswell for his work on the bill, and explained how the legislation would help prepare the nation's pipeline infrastructure to transport renewable fuels. Heine discussed some of the technical difficulties associated with transporting ethanol through pipelines, and why new technology is necessary. He also touted the benefits of using pipelines to move fuels. "Pipelines are the most economic way to transport large volumes of liquids," said Hein. "For example, transporting a gallon of gasoline from Houston to New York can be done for less than three cents per gallon."

As he announced the introduction of the bill, Boswell said that it would fund a feasibility study on the construction of a dedicated pipeline and also carry out research and development regarding the factors that prevent ethanol and biodiesel from being transported through existing pipelines. Boswell explained that the funding would be provided through a competitive solicitation process conducted by the Department of Energy. He said that the legislation would require that the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Transportation coordinate their efforts in conducting the studies.

Iowa Corn Growers Association director Jim Meyer applauded the legislation, and talked about how corn farmers are prepared to meet the demand. "It was kind of, heartburn for the corn growers of Iowa, and growers across the corn belt, to get questioned on whether we could raise enough corn to meet the needs in the coming years," said Meyer. "We're really thrilled as corn growers to be able to show folks in the United States and maybe the world what we can do in the production of corn. Yields are going to have to be good. We've got the acres committed to corn production. And I don't think there's ever been a time that I can remember that we've had a chance to really pull out the all the stops and just see how much corn can be raised. Especially here in Iowa."

"We've got the ethanol production facilities coming on line and we've got the corn to meet the need," said Meyer. "But it isn't going to do any good unless we can get the product to the consumer. And that is why a dedicated pipeline for ethanol can be very crucial."

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association echoed Meyer's comments on the ability of farmers to produce the needed product to meet the coming demand. He discussed the national debate on energy policy and renewable fuels standards and said, "What I'm a little afraid of is we don't seem to have the same level and intensity on the public debate regarding what we're going to do with that fuel. We can produce it. We can produce the feedstocks and produce these biofuels, but how are we going to get it to the market?"

"This bill is very important," said Shaw. "We can't wait until we're producing that 30- or 60-billion gallons of ethanol to figure this out. It takes a while to build some of this infrastructure. If we determine that pipelines are the way to go, and we need them, then we need to get started now so they'll be in place." Shaw explained some of the federal legislation that has been proposed regarding new renewable fuels standards, but stressed the importance of distribution infrastructure as part of the debate. "You know, maybe it's not as fun as talking about some big RFS number, but it's just as important, if not more important."

Jamie Cashman, a spokesman for Gov. Chet Culver, was also on hand to lend support to Boswell's legislation. Cashman noted Culver's dedication to growing the renewable fuels industry in Iowa, and spoke in favor of the pipeline infrastructure study.

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