By Kay Braddock
Five Montanans traveled to Washington D.C. last week to testify before the U.S. State Department concerning TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It was the final public hearing addressing the State Department’s draft environmental impact study of the proposed 1,980-mile pipeline, which would run from Alberta’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast.
The proposed pipeline would cross 280 miles of six Montana counties, including 21 miles in Prairie County.
The State Department’s approval of the project is a required step because the pipeline crosses an international border.
If approved the pipeline is expected to carry about 800,000 barrels daily of the thick oil substance.
Prairie County Commissioner Todd Devlin was one of the five Montanans who spoke at the hearing, which included the testimonies of about 25 individuals for and against the project.
Other Montanans who testified included McCone County farmer Tom Rudolph, who owns land the pipeline is expected to cross, two representatives from Montana Association of Oil, Gas and Coal Counties and Dawson County Commissioner and landowner Jim Skillestad.
While Rudolph, a member of the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group, raised concerns about the proposed pipeline, the other four from Montana testified in support of the project.
“This draft EIS does not contain a complete Emergency Response Plan,” Rudolph stated at the hearing, according to a press release from the landowners group. “A spill along the Keystone XL route is a real risk, and the disaster in the Gulf serves as a warning.”
Rudolph also expressed concerns about the company’s request for a pressure waiver allowing TransCanada to operate the pipeline at a higher pressure using thinner pipe.
“The EIS should analyze the real potential risks and impacts of a spill under the waiver-granted scenario. Farm and ranch land should be afforded the same level of safety that cities are. …” Rudolph testified.
If the waiver is granted, TransCanada could operate the pipeline at a pressure of 80 percent of maximum bursting pressure, rather than the 72 percent specified by engineering standards, according to the landowners group’s press release.
But Devlin points to confusion that may exist regarding the safety levels of pipeline pressure. He gathered information from testimony given in Washington D.C. by a representative of the manufacturer of the pipe.
“…They calculate a pressure that’s safe. So then they physically test the pipe at 100 percent, which they calculate to be a safe level,” Devlin said. Adding, “That doesn’t mean it bursts at 100 percent. That means they consider it safe at 100 percent.”
Opting to focus his testimony from the State Department’s perspective, Devlin said he pointed out the government will not only need to address environmental concerns but diplomatic issues along with the nation’s constant demand for supply of crude oil. Devlin pointed to Canada’s friendly ally status with the U.S. as opposed to other countries relied upon for oil.
It will be up to President Barack Obama and the State Department on whether to approve the project or seek further research, Devlin said. Research such as the carbon footprint study, would likely delay the pipeline project substantially.
“The oil sands of Alberta will be developed. That’s a fact. The TransCanada pipeline has nothing to do with that,” Devlin said pointing out other options to transport the oil substance to the world market are being considered.
“If it goes to the Pacific Rim and crosses British Columbia, we have nothing to say about the safety issues then,” Devlin said. “But here we do.”
Published July 7, 2010