Keystone XL Pipeline meeting: 500 attend Montana hearing |

Keystone XL Pipeline meeting: 500 attend Montana hearing

In a word, the message sent forth from a U.S. Department of State hearing in Glendive, MT, was “jobs.”

A clear majority of those who spoke at the Sept. 27, 2011 meeting were in favor of the proposed 1,700-mile TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline. The $7 billion, privately-funded project would transport Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin crude oil from a supply hub in Alberta, Canada, to points in Oklahoma and the Texas Gulf Coast.

Additionally, an on-ramp near Baker, MT, would allow regionally-produced crude to enter the pipeline, relieving a transportation bottleneck plaguing production in the Bakken and surrounding formations. Keystone XL would join-up with the existing Keystone #1 in Steele City, NE.

But, before construction of Keystone XL can proceed, Calgary-based TransCanada needs approval of a Presidential Permit application filed in 2008. The Department of State is involved in the processes under Executive Order 13337: construction of a pipeline crossing a U.S. international border. The environmental impact study (EIS) phase is complete. Released Aug. 26, 2011, the EIS determined there would be no significant impact on the corridor and suggested the permitting process continue on to the next phase.

To that end, the Department is collecting comments to determine if the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest. Eight meetings were held the week of Sept. 26 to take comments. A final meeting will be held Oct. 7, 2011, in Washington, DC. They hope to make the final determination by the end of the year as to whether the potential project will be allowed to proceed.

Individuals have until midnight on Oct. 9, 2011, to submit comments for consideration. Fax comments to 206-269-0098. Mail comments to Alexander Yuan, Keystone XL Project NID, PO Box 96503-98500, Washington, DC. 20090-6503. E-mail comments to Post comments online at

Of 117 individuals who initially registered to speak in Glendive, 99 hung tough through the session’s five-and-a-half-hour duration. Elected officials, farmers, ranchers, union members, business owners and rural electric co-op managers came from across the state. Others traveled from as far away as Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, Washington, Wyoming and South Dakota.

Seventy percent of those addressing Department of State representative James Steele were in favor of the proposed project, with jobs at the top of the list for many. Others articulated the benefits of an increased tax base and construction dollars filtering down to American manufacturers, distributors and locally-owned small businesses. Also high on the list of benefits was having a dependable source of crude oil as close as our good neighbors in Canada.

At least two dozen union members, conspicuously-dressed in orange or fluorescent green T-shirts, touted putting unemployed construction workers on the shovel-ready, privately-funded pipeline. The projected numbers of jobs ran the gamut from a handful to several thousand. Montana AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Al Ekblad said it would provide 800 jobs in Montana.

Detractors warned the jobs are temporary at best and wouldn’t necessarily go to Americans. They also questioned how a pipeline built for the expressed purpose of shipping oil aboard from the Port Arthur, TX terminus was in the national interest.

Les Thompson, county commissioner from Powder River County (MT) provided real-world substance to the claim that the pipeline would increase the tax base for cash-strapped county governments. Speaking to the impact a 9-mile section the Bison Pipeline has had in the southeastern Montana county, Thompson said the pipeline generated $2 million in taxes for their most recent budget, which totaled $7 million.

The overall track record of pipeline safety was noted as a positive. When oil is transported via pipeline, it reduces the number of tanker trucks on roads and highways. A comment heard several times was: the oil is going to leave Canada by pipeline or by truck; we’d rather have it go by pipeline.

Approximately 20 people came out in direct opposition to the pipeline. Their concerns fell within the main categories of climate change caused by fossil fuels, environmental damages at the extraction site, exploitation of indigenous people in Canada, and potential for leaks along the route.

Keystone #1’s track record is not trouble free. Since June 2010, it has experienced no fewer than 12 leaks ranging from 2 gallons to 500 barrels. It was initially estimated that Keystone #1 would experience one leak every seven years.

Roughly 10 participants urged the Department of State to proceed with caution, sharing concerns about the project’s design, reclamation, local emergency plans, and landowner compensation. Not necessarily against the project, they want stronger assurances things will be done correctly.

Tempering the allure of jobs and tax relief, Helen Waller spoke to the national interest of feeding its people. Waller and her husband, Gordy, have farmed in McCone County (MT) for 57 years. She warned of “the negative impacts left behind for landowners to deal with for the lifetime of the pipeline and thereafter.”

Calling land a “finite resource,” Waller stated, “It is in our national interest to protect our irreplaceable agricultural land.”

Classes were cancelled at Dawson Community College to accommodate the meeting. A strong showing by law enforcement was intended to head off acts of civil disobedience such as protests occurring in Ottawa, Canada, and Washington, DC. The crowd was well behaved, both indoors and outside the gymnasium. In closing the meeting, moderator Steele thanked those still present for the “civil and professional way” they conducted themselves.

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