Monday, October 3, 2011

Gazette opinion: Build pipeline to supply U.S. with friendly fuel

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not a risk-free project. However, there are risks in not building this oil pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

The United States needs oil. We consume more than we produce and we put ourselves and our military members at risk to defend distant, unstable sources of oil.

Conservation and energy efficiency must become a higher priority for our great nation. But we won’t be able to conserve away our oil import demand in the foreseeable future.

In a guest opinion printed Sept. 26 on this page, a Canadian diplomat noted that construction of the pipeline is expected to create “5,531 person-years of employment and $7.5 million in state tax revenues” in Montana.

“Both Canada and the United States are moving towards reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, but this transition, while necessary, will take time,” Landan Amirazizi wrote from Denver. “Until we sufficiently reduce demand and secure alternative sources that can meet our requirements, turn to Canada.”

A 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada’s oil sands north of the Montana border is a reasonable, necessary source of dependable oil supply.

Montana onramp

Montana has strong interests in this project, which would cross 284 miles of the state from the Port of Morgan north of Malta to a pointsoutheast of Baker. Gov. Brian Schweitzer insisted that the project include an onramp near Baker to transport Montana and North Dakota crude to oil refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.

Last fall, TransCanada’s “open season” drew commitments for shipping 65,000 barrels a day from the Bakken oil play. Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, said last week that he expects the full 100,000-barrel-per-day onramp capacity will be used once it becomes available.

“This is a big deal for the Williston Basin,” said Tad True of Bridger Pipeline, which has oil pipelines in Eastern Montana. True said the Keystone XL onramp would give this oil-producing region a direct connection to Cushing, Okla., the largest oil market in the world, and it would increase the basin’s overall export capacity.

The Keystone XL pipeline is projected to create tens of thousands of constructions jobs nationwide as well as refinery jobs in Texas. That’s what brought out much of the crowd at a Glendive hearing Tuesday. Union workers and local government leaders voiced support for the pipeline as a job creator.

After completion, the pipeline would generate millions of dollars annually in property taxes for the counties through which it passes and for the state as a whole.

The Gazette has printed dozens of letters from readers for and against the pipeline. Concerns about the danger of leaks and fairness to landowners whose property the pipeline would cross must be addressed in the pipeline permit.

Environmental protection

TransCanada officials have pledged to build this pipeline to the highest safety standards. State and federal regulators must hold the company to that commitment.

TransCanada should provide the emergency response plan that some landowners and neighbors have called for.

The Keystone XL project has been exhaustively studied. An environmental impact statement, nearly three years in the making, found that the pipeline wouldn’t significantly affect the environment.

The EIS includes 57 conditions covering construction materials, pipeline pressure, temperature, reporting requirements and many other points. Those conditions should be part of the permit to ensure that the project runs as safely as possible.

The governments of Canada and the United States have required oil producers to reduce pollution. Additional technology is needed to make oil sands less polluting.

However, lack of better pollution controls isn’t reason to veto this project. If this oil doesn’t flow through the Keystone XL pipeline, it will get to market another way, and probably go to developing nations far from U.S. shores.

The final decision is up to President Barack Obama. We call on the president to support this project for a safer, more dependable source of oil and for the construction jobs that it would start generating next year.