By Jason Stuart
The Keystone XL pipeline crossed another major hurdle late last week when the U.S. State Department released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the controversial project.
Now it’s a wait and see process to find out if President Obama will give his final approval to move forward with construction.
The EIS concluded that the pipeline’s construction would have minimal impact on global carbon emissions or climate change, though it stopped short of actually recommending construction.
Those findings did, however, bolster the position of pipeline proponents, who have argued all along that the pipeline would create less carbon emissions and pose less environmental risk than increased shipping of oil by truck or rail and that Canada would move ahead with development of the Alberta oil sands region with or without the pipeline’s construction.
The EIS ultimately came down on the side of both those arguments.
Environmentalists, however, were not swayed by the EIS findings, and have vowed to continue fighting to block the project at every turn.
The Northern Plains Resource Council, a regional environmental group, released the following statement by NPRSC member and McCone County landowner Darrell Garoutte after the EIS was released.
“The NPRC believes that careful analysis of the just-released final EIS will show that it is far short of demonstrating that the Keystone XL pipeline would be in the national interest,” Garoutte said in the statement.
Groups like the NPRC’s views are at odds with many other locals, however, who believe the region will benefit economically from the pipeline’s construction.
The pipeline’s proposed route cuts across seven Montana counties, including Dawson, McCone, Prairie and Fallon. Pumping stations are proposed in McCone and Prairie counties. And at Baker, TransCanada is proposing to build oil storage tanks and the “Bakken Marketlink” tributary pipeline to deliver Bakken oil to Gulf Coast refineries via the Keystone.
Dawson County Commissioner Jim Skillestad, who testified before Congress on the pipeline four years ago, said Dawson County could only benefit from the project moving forward.
“The lowest figure I’ve seen is from $9 million per year up to $16 million per year in direct payments to Dawson County for 25 years,” Skillestad said. “Nothing like this has ever happened to Dawson County.”
The county’s budget for this fiscal year was just under $19 million.
Skillestad said the financial windfall from the pipeline could help the county improve its infrastructure, especially given that Dawson County is feeling impact from the Bakken oil boom but not benefiting directly from oil production revenues.
Jason Rittal, executive director of the Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation, concurred with Skillestad’s assessment of the pipeline’s benefit to Dawson County and other counties it crosses.
“The long term benefit and what they’re going to be able to invest in as far as infrastructure and roads is going to big,” Rittal said.
Skilestad also thinks having the pipeline would help “lower a lot of taxes,” which he believes would help county taxpayers be more likely to support bond issues for new schools and other needed community projects.
For now, all eyes turn to Washington to see what Obama will do. The White House has made clear that a final decision on Keystone is not imminent, and likely won’t be made any sooner than at least three months from now.
Montana’s congressional delegation, meanwhile, continues to apply pressure to the administration to grant approval to Keystone.
“The final EIS once again confirmed what the people of Montana have known for more than five years: the Keystone XL pipeline will have no significant impacts on the environment, but it will create hundreds of good Montana jobs and help keep energy prices low for hard-working Montana families,” said Rep. Steve Daines in a released statement. “Report after report has stated that the Keystone XL pipeline will not have significant environmental impacts, yet President Obama refuses to act. No more excuses, no more delays -- it’s time to build the Keystone XL pipeline.”
Daines has previously helped introduce legislation in the House that would bypass the need for Obama’s approval for the pipeline.
Sen. Jon Tester also renewed his call for Keystone’s approval.
“I will keep fighting for the Keystone Pipeline until it is built to the highest safety standards and with respect for private property rights,” Tester said in a statement. “The pipeline will strengthen our economy and let us continue to cut our oil imports from countries that wish us harm.”
Tester did not comment on whether or not he would be willing to support legislation to bypass the administration should Obama continue to delay making a decision.
Tester spokesman Dan Malessa simply said that “Jon has voted several times to authorize construction of the pipeline” and that “he has also called on the President to speed up the approval process.” Malessa also noted that “Congress remains divided on this issue.”
But with the final EIS findings, Skillestad is confident that the writing is on the wall for all the wrangling over the project to finally come to an end.
“It’s starting to come around, and I have a lot of hope and faith that it’s going to happen,” he said.
Published February 5, 2014