Sen. Landrieu pushes for investment in oil, gas infrastructure in La. _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., speaks with representatives from oil and gas businesses recently at the Picard Center in Lafayette. She announced Tuesday that Bolling Shipyards is a finalist for a Coast Guard contract.

As federal officials work to conduct a review of the nation’s energy infrastructure, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu on Tuesday made her case for them to find ways to invest in projects that would improve Louisiana’s oil and gas infrastructure.

Landrieu, a Democrat who is running for re-election, spoke at a public hearing at the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, one of more than a dozen hearings the Department of Energy plans to hold nationwide to gather feedback from energy experts and executives on the challenges and issues facing U.S. energy production.

Speakers took turns making their case for where money should be invested during a series of panels that mostly highlighted efforts toward workforce development as well as the Gulf Coast’s need for improved infrastructure for distributing, storing and transmitting oil and gas.

The meetings are part of the Obama administration’s so-called Quadrennial Energy Review, which is aimed at providing a multiple-year plan for molding U.S. energy policy.

Tuesday’s meeting included brief remarks from U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor. Moniz later in the day joined Landrieu for tours of Port Fourchon, the nation’s leading energy supply port, and the Port of Iberia.

“We see it in many ways: the need to develop new infrastructure, the need to respond to changing infrastructure,” Moniz said.

Louisiana is enjoying its biggest industrial boom in decades, powered by natural gas prices that have hit historic lows, and Landrieu said officials need to “take full advantage of this energy renaissance.”

“Our oil and gas industry, particularly our chemical industry, has been tremendously efficient, but in this revolution, there’s an opportunity to create high-paying jobs here in Louisiana, in the Gulf Coast and in the country,” she said. “We cannot let this opportunity that comes once in a lifetime slip away.”

Landrieu, chairwoman of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the hearing was intended to gather “input from Louisiana citizens and experts about the outlook for energy production and infrastructure in the United States.”

Throughout her remarks at the hearing and in speaking with reporters afterward, Landrieu focused squarely on Louisiana’s role as the “epicenter of oil and gas exploration, production, transportation and manufacturing,” and she stressed a need for renewed investment in its infrastructure, including improvements to highways, railways, and oil and gas pipelines, plus continued dredging of the Mississippi River.

One project she highlighted was Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette, a stretch she said is “almost at a breaking point.”

“If we don’t get ahead of that train in terms of driving the infrastructure here, driving the technology, we’re going to lose out on major opportunities,” she said.

Of course, finding examples of infrastructure that needs work isn’t hard, she said. “It’s so easy to identify what infrastructure is necessary,” she said. “The challenge is how to pay for it.”

Landrieu’s stop in Louisiana drew a swift rebuke from U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, who criticized the Obama administration as having “failed to implement consistent policies that provide long-term certainty for companies operating in the Gulf.”

In talking with reporters, Landrieu mostly sidestepped questions about a controversial proposal to drill a fracking well in St. Tammany Parish, which has been met with sharp resistance by many residents.

Landrieu said hydraulic fracturing, like other emerging technologies, offers “challenges and management issues,” and that residents need as much information as possible in order to draw their own conclusions.

“It’s developing as a new technology that is delivering a much-needed energy renaissance in the country,” she said. “Without this particular way of extracting tight oil and tight gas, we could not be experiencing the possibility of America being energy-independent. It’s clear we have to move forward, because the promise is exciting for jobs and for our economy.”

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.