Pipeline foes pleased; TransCanada vows to fight onKeystone XL pipeline halted for now but its future remains unclear.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
National Wildlife Federation attorney Matt McGovern said a delay in the start of the Keystone XL pipeline, while good for Nebraska’s Sandhills, will also benefit South Dakota.
“The decision by the federal government to explore an alternative route around the Nebraska Sandhills also gives South Dakotans time to weigh in with their own Legislature and the governor to ask for changes and stronger safety standards,” McGovern said. “Once federal and state agencies complete a fair and impartial review, the State Department will find that the project is not in the national interest and this thing is not going to be built — whether it’s West River, East River or some other route.”
Just the same, McGovern, the grandson of the Mitchell native and former congressman and senator, said he will spend the time until a final routing decision is rendered by researching legal alternatives — just in case the pipeline doesn’t go down to defeat.
If the route were switched so the Keystone XL pipeline would run in tandem with the existing East River pipeline, that would require an additional review, McGovern said.
“It would require an environmental impact study and you’d have to have a permit from the president,” he said. “I think when they do that initial study, they will find the pipeline is not in the national interest.”
TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard, speaking from Lincoln, Neb., on Wednesday, said his company is not packing it in and is working with the state of Nebraska to develop an alternative route. Howard said TransCanada continues working with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, which will be the lead agency in the review, as well as the State Department. The latter is involved because the pipeline crosses national boundaries.
Howard believes the supplemental review process to move the pipeline route around the Sandhills and the Oglalla aquifer could take six to nine months.
“We continue to push hard to get this built,” he said, “It’s a critical part of energy infrastructure in North America and we’d obviously like to begin construction as soon as possible.”
Ultimately, it’s up to the State Department to determine what must be done, Howard said.
“That part is out of our control,” he said.
The review does not include the proposed segment of the pipeline that runs though western South Dakota.
Working out a new Nebraska route is merely a detail and does not threaten the entire pipeline project, he said.
“Before these activists and opponents of the pipeline get too far ahead of themselves, it would probably be a good idea if they looked at what the Department of State said last week,” he said. “They wanted us to look at an alternative route around the Sandhills. There’s no issue other than the routing of the pipeline.”
Howard said communities along the route are counting on the tax revenue, contracts and jobs the project will create and want the pipeline to be built.
The economic impacts could be huge for the states involved, he said.
Opponents believe the environmental impacts could be equally huge.
McGovern cited 14 reported spills along the existing pipeline.
“There’s absolutely no issue with the integrity of the pipeline,” responded Howard.
Howard didn’t deny the 14 reported spills on Keystone, but he said the five- to 10-gallon releases have been in pumping stations and there have been no environmental impacts.
Howard denied Keystone has run afoul of the politics leading up to the 2012 presidential campaign.
“I would say that pipelines have become a very convenient target for professional activists who are opposed to fossil fuels,” Howard said. “The anti-pipeline campaign is a well orchestrated and funded campaign to try and stop oil development and fossil fuel consumption — that’s what I would point to more than election timing.
“After the BP incident in the Gulf of Mexico and the Enbridge spill in Michigan, that’s when the campaigns against our pipeline started,” he said. “They’ve poured tens of millions into a PR campaign against our pipeline.”
Howard was referring to the July 2010 pipeline spill near Marshall, Mich. The EPA estimated 1.1 million gallons of oil were spilled from a pipeline which runs from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge, a TransCanada competitor also from Calgary, Canada, said the spill from its southern Michigan pipeline was closer to 843,000 gallons. Some oil entered the Kalamazoo River and the river remains closed to the public.
Howard dismissed the idea that the oil sands — they are not “tar” sands, he insists — are too acidic and abrasive for the pipeline and could increase the possibilities of leaks.
The crude oil product has a history of being transported safely, he said.
“It’s ridiculous for people to suggest that we are about to invest $13 billion in a pipeline system and that we’d then go and put a product into it that would destroy it from the inside out,” he said.