David Speaks Out on Keystone XL Pipeline Delays

MPs anxiously await Keystone XL Pipeline ruling

By Chris Plecash at The Hill Times

Tory MPs whose ridings will be home to the Canadian leg of the Keystone XL pipeline say that they have no concerns with the project’s safety and the U.S. should approve the project.

Conservative MP Leon Benoit’s (Vegreville-Wainright, Alta.) riding is home to Hardisty, Alta., the proposed starting point for the TransCanada megaproject. Mr. Benoit told The Hill Times that the pipeline is “extremely important economically” in his riding.

“It affects almost everybody there. Farmers-without the income from the oil and gas sector, certainly wouldn’t be doing as well as they are. Every small town, the jobs depend on the oil and gas sector,” he said. “[Construction] crews move from one pipeline to another, but most of the jobs are in the production area. Some of the jobs are in the processing areas.”

The Canada leg of Keystone XL would cover 525 km, running south through Mr. Benoit’s riding before cutting across the southwest corner of Saskatchewan and into the U.S. state of Montana. The line would continue for more than 1,365 km through South Dakota and Nebraska before linking up with an existing TransCanada pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska that would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oilsands crude per day to tide water on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Keystone XL would also pass through the riding of Conservative MP David Anderson (Cypress Hills-Grasslands, Sask.), who told The Hill Times that his constituents are “frustrated with delays” by the U.S. government.

“People put assets in place several years ago to try to realize the benefits of the pipeline coming through,” Mr. Anderson said. “If you go to the bother of trying to set up a business and get it ready to go and then can’t actually use it, it’s frustrating to people.” Mr. Anderson said that “a significant number of people” in his riding work for TransCanada and have a stake in the project’s approval, while small business owners in the area would see increased business from the construction of the line. Farmers also stand to gain financially from lease agreements struck with the company.

“Many landowners have pipelines smaller than Keystone running across their own land [and] they’ve been able to negotiate lease agreements with the oil and gas companies,” said Mr. Anderson, who owns a farm in the area and has a buried natural gas pipeline passing through his property. He said that he has “very little” in the way of safety concerns with Keystone or existing pipelines in his riding.

“The history of pipeline safety in our riding has been a strong one,” he said. “There’s a familiarity and comfort level with pipelines that people have because they know the realities of them-they’re still the safest way to move the product, and certainly they’ve been a big part of our economy for the last several decades.”

Heavy oil pipelines have come under increased scrutiny after the rupture of an Enbridge pipeline carrying oil sands crude through Michigan spilled nearly 21,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Questions have been raised about the National Energy Board’s enforcement record and TransCanada’s safety record following testimony by former TransCanada engineer Evan Vokes to the Senate Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee in June of last year.

Mr. Vokes was dismissed by TransCanada in 2012 after repeatedly raising concerns about construction practices, eventually taking his concerns to the National Energy Board.

“There’s no threat of enforcement, absolutely not,” Mr. Vokes recently told The Hill Times. “[Construction] is worse now than it’s been for a long time because the professional cost-schedule people are overriding any hope of quality control.”

U.S. public opinion polls show strong support for Keystone XL, but environmental groups who supported U.S. President Barack Obama’s election and re-election campaigns have pushed for the president to block the project.

The National Energy Board approved the Canadian portion of Keystone XL in 2010, but nearly four years later the project’s U.S. leg remains in regulatory limbo. In 2011, the U.S. State Department, which is responsible for approving international pipelines, withheld a permit for the project on the grounds that it posed environmental risks to aquifers in Nebraska.

TransCanada reapplied with a revised route in 2012, and last month the U.S. State Department responded with an Environmental Impact Statement estimating that oil produced, refined, and combusted as a result of the project would result in between 147 and 168 Mt of greenhouse gas emissions annually. The report went on to state that approving or denying the project would have a negligible impact on overall global emissions.

On the economic front, the report estimates that the project’s two-year construction would create more than 42,000 direct and indirect jobs and contribute $3.4-billion to the U.S. economy, but the project would support only 50 U.S. jobs once it’s completed.

The U.S. is now in the midst of a 30-day National Interest Determination phase, which is the final stage before approving or blocking the project and takes into account the project’s environmental, social, economic, and energy impacts.

A Presidential Permit is required for the project to go ahead, but it’s up to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to determine whether or not that permit should be granted. The Conservatives, as well as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the U.S. Midwest, have expressed frustration with the Obama Administration’s handling of the process.

“People in my constituency have been expressing concern that President Obama hasn’t used science to base his decisions,” said Mr. Benoit. “[Keystone] has been given more than a clean bill of health, environmentally. It’s been given a very positive one.”

“The U.S. is going to have to make their decision, and they’ve got their process. We’d like to see it approved, we think it’s a good project both for Western Canada and for the United States,” said Mr. Anderson. “I would suggest that the United States needs as many friendly suppliers of energy as they can find.”

Retired Conservative MP Bob Mills, a former chair of the House environment committee and a critic of the government’s current environmental policy, said that he’s in favour of the project, but he’s not optimistic that it will go ahead.

“I’ll really be surprised if Obama approves it. He’s so wishy-washy on this that I don’t know that he will,” said Mr. Mills. “If I were American, I would rather have [oil] from Canada than from Iraq or Iran.”

Since his retirement from politics in 2008, Mr. Mills has criticized the federal government for neglecting the environment; weakening environmental protection laws; and eliminating the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, of which he is a former member.

Originally a Reform MP, Mr. Mills served as the Conservative Party’s environment critic during its years in opposition. He lives on a farm near Red Deer, Alta., about 200 km south west of Hardisty, and said that his property has two pipelines running “about a football field away” from his home. Asked if he has safety concerns about the line, Mr. Mills acknowledged that he’s occasionally considered it.

“The first [pipeline] would be the one I think about the most, because it was put in more than 30 years ago-we bought the land 30 years ago and it was already there,” he said, adding that the lease income landowners receive from pipeline operators makes it worthwhile.

Mr. Mills said that he’s confident that current pipeline technology is safe, adding that the government has the responsibility to make sure companies follow safety regulations.

“There will always be spills, but as long as we can contain it, and as long as it’s not on water, we can probably handle it technologically,” he said. “There’s always trade-offs and I think the economic benefits-as long as the right safety precautions are taken-probably outweigh any environmental damage.”