By Eric Killelea
Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline outnumbered critics during a public meeting on the $7 billion project that would run crude oil from the Alberta tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf Coast.
On Tuesday, Dawson Community College was packed with 500 people, 117 of whom testified to officials from the U.S. Department of State.
Landowners and labor union representatives were among those who spoke in favor of TransCanada’s project, saying it would create thousands of jobs in Eastern Montana. If built, the Keystone XL pipeline would enter Montana at the U.S.-Canadian border north of Malta, and run southeast through Eastern Montana. It would then travel into South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
In August, the State Department released its second and final version of the Environmental Impact Statement. The Environmental Protection Agency criticized the drafts and questioned Keystone’s impacts on air quality, drinking water, endangered species and minority and Native American communities.
State Department officials are nearing the end of their 90-day consultation period, hosting eight public meetings in the six states the pipeline would cross; an additional meeting is scheduled Oct. 7 in Washington, D.C. Federal officials have said a decision on whether to approve the pipeline is expected by the end of the year.
In Glendive, supporters of the project testified creation of jobs was reason enough to grant the permit.
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg was met with applause when he said he was in favor of the project. Montana Sen. John Brenden, who represents district 18 in northeast Montana, said he would rather do business with Canada than “foreign regimes.” Commissioners from Dawson, McCone, Prairie and Roosevelt voiced their support.
Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy read a statement written by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in favor of the pipeline. Schweitzer wrote Canadian oil is “conflict-free,” that it would create 20,000 jobs and help domestic oil production – most notably in Baker, where the governor helped negotiate the Bakken Marketlink project, and on-ramp that would connect to Keystone XL pipeline.
Fallon County Commissioner Don Rieger, who holds office where the ramp would be built, said in an interview the ramp could accommodate 100,000 barrels of oil per day. He said Fallon County has signed contracts with several oil companies working in the Bakken Formation to run 65,000 barrels of oil per day.
Before the meeting, Canadian government spokesperson Mike Deising said Alberta has 170 billion barrels in reserves, making it the third largest of its kind in the world.
“It produces 2 million barrels per day and we expect it to produce 3.5 to 3.7 million barrels by 2020,” Deising said. “To put it in perspective, Canada supplies the U.S. with 22 percent of its imported oil [Alberta 17 percent, Saudi Arabia 11 percent and Iraq 4 percent].”
However, critics said TransCanada is using false rhetoric to make people think the project would create jobs.
The Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group attended the meeting with nearly 40 members wearing blue shirts that read “No Tar Sands.”
Northern Plains member Chuck Nerud, who owns a ranch north of Circle, said in an interview the pipeline would cross his land, and he thinks a spill could affect his water, then drain into the Redwater River and into the Missouri. He also said the talk about jobs is exaggerated.
Northern Plains member Dena Hoff, whose family operates an irrigated farm along the Yellowstone River in Dawson County, said the country is experiencing “oil glut.”
“How does depending on Canada make us energy dependent?” Hoff said. “And this oil will not stay in the U.S. It will be exported.”
More than 100 members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America attended the meeting in support of the pipeline. Many had worked the Bison pipeline, a 302-mile pipeline indirectly owned by Canada through a subsidiary, that moves gas from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin north to the Northern Border Pipeline in North Dakota.
All members wore orange shirts and held signs outside of the college gym that read “Reason. Not Extremism.”
LiUNA member Ken Robertson said he is in favor of “clean jobs.” He worked the Bison pipeline and said he considers himself an environmentalist who “would make sure the Keystone XL was built the right way.”
The construction of the Keystone XL was briefly discussed in interviews.
TransCanada spokesperson Ron Murchie said the half-inch thick pipeline would be buried at least 25 feet below the Yellowstone River bed and 4 feet below county land. He said the pipeline was sturdy enough for maximum flow pressure and TransCanada has agreed to 57 conditions set by the Department of Transportation last spring.
Several of those conditions include committing to frequent aerial and ground monitoring and setting the maximum distance between shut-off valves at 20 miles, Murchie said.
“Keystone XL would be the safest pipeline in the country,” he said.
Buffalo Rapids Irrigation District No. 1 is not against the project, board member Ric Holden said.
“But we have two major concerns,” Holden said. “We’d like to see TransCanada bore 15 feet under the canals. And when they come to a buried pipe [of our own], we’d like assurance that they would bore under them rather than cutting through them.”
During the meeting, Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison applauded those in attendance. He said the benefits of Keystone XL outweigh the negatives and that Eastern Montana was glad it could help generate money for the entire state.
“We are sort of like the rich uncle you never see,” Jimison said. “I only ask that Keystone treat the less than 50,000 people living in Eastern Montana with respect.”
Despite disagreements about the project, the meeting ran well according to Glendive Police Department Chief Alan Michaels. Local law enforcement and fire departments were assisted by the Montana Highway Patrol and Helena and Lewis and Clark County personnel. Michaels said there were no arrests, injuries – not one fine.
DCC classes were cancelled Tuesday in a joint decision with law enforcement and college administration, Michaels said. Classes resumed the following day.
Testimony given on Tuesday in the DCC gym will be reviewed by the State Department. The public consultation period is scheduled to end Oct. 9.
Published Sept. 28, 2011