By: Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service
DICKINSON, N.D. - How about we get this pipeline approved, eh? That was the sentiment displayed by North Dakota’s senators and Canadian foreign officials who sat down for separate meetings Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to continue a recent push to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Sen. John Hoeven met separately with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and Ambassador Gary Doer in an effort to continue to put pressure on the State Department to render a decision on the proposed 1,700-mile oil pipeline between Canada and Texas.
“Currently, the big issue in the Canadian-American relationship is the Keystone (XL) pipeline,” Heitkamp said during a conference call. “Both Sen. Hoeven and I are staunch believers that the time has come to make a decision. Hopefully, the right decision will be made, which would be to approve the pipeline.”
Longtime supporters of the proposed multibillion-dollar pipeline — estimated to cost between $5 billion and $7 billion — the North Dakota senators’ sense of urgency for a Keystone XL decision was echoed by Baird, who is in Washington for this week’s North American Foreign Ministers Meeting being hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry.
“This is more than a pipeline and the energy sector. This is about the future prosperity of our country,” Baird said. “The Keystone XL is also a very important part of our trading relationship, which is the biggest and most open in the world. We’ve gone through an exhaustive process and decision time is approaching.”
In addition to enhancing what Heitkamp called “North American energy independence” — she said opening up the Keystone XL would “replace crude from Venezuela” — the senator said the issue of safety during the transport of oil was discussed. Last month, a fiery explosion near Casselton resulted when a train carrying Bakken crude collided with a derailed soybean train.
The Keystone XL, while not expected to go into North Dakota, would be linked to the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota and eastern Montana.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Hoeven said the Keystone XL should be part of an “all-of-the-above” approach to bringing oil and gas products to market.
“We’re going to produce more energy and we’re going to get more energy from Canada,” Hoeven said. “We need pipelines, as well as rail and truck transport. Remember, pipelines will help take some of the congestion off rail and off trucks. For example, Keystone XL will take 500 trucks per day off our highways in western North Dakota. That’s a congestion and traffic safety issue. We’re going to need all of this energy infrastructure.”
While a string of several rail accidents in the U.S. and Canada involving cars carrying oil was thought by some in the energy industry to give Keystone XL’s chances for approval a boost due to rail safety concerns, a poll released this week by Nanos Research Group showed support from the Canadian public waning.
From April to December 2013, support for the pipeline dropped from 68 percent to 52 percent, according to the poll. During a recent concert in Toronto, Canadian-born musician and environmental activist Neil Young compared the development of the nation’s oil sands — from which much of the oil traveling through a completed Keystone XL would come — to the nuclear destruction that blanketed Hiroshima, Japan, after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city during World War II.
In an apparent reference to efforts by Young and other celebrities — in addition to many environmental groups — Doer said a decision on Keystone XL shouldn’t be influenced by actors or musicians.
“We should choose blue-collar workers over perhaps Hollywood celebrities,” Doer said. “In the decision going forward in the White House, we should choose to have energy from middle North America, rather than the Middle East. We think this is a common sense decision to be made and, the quicker it’s made, the quicker we can get people working on this on both sides of the border.”
Though it has been debated and dissected for more than five years, the controversial pipeline needs State Department approval because it crosses an international border. A Bloomberg report released Wednesday, however, cited an anonymous U.S. government official as stating that an additional public comment period could be enacted before any final decision is made.
“I met with the State (Department) shortly before the end of the year,” Hoeven said. “They indicated that they were bringing the final EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) out soon. They would not give me a definite timeline, but my best guess of what that means is somewhere around the end of this month, and that’s what I’m hearing from other sources. However, we know that that still would offer the opportunity for additional agency input.”
In an opinion he has expressed in the past, Hoeven said there could be an alternative path to approval of the Keystone XL even if President Barack Obama ultimately gives the project a red light. Hoeven said the project could be packaged with legislation the president wouldn’t likely veto.
“This issue polls 75 percent-plus in terms of the American public wanting this pipeline,” Hoeven said. “They want us to work together with Canada to produce our own energy. What it comes to is this: Who are you making this decision for? Are you making it for the American people or are you making it for Hollywood? That’s what the administration needs to consider.”