By Rob Port | WatchDog.org North Dakota Bureau
BISMARCK, N.D. — One of President Barack Obama’s biggest hurdles for approving TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project may now have been met.
That comes as welcome news in North Dakota, where a jam-packed infrastructure is contributing to myriad problems from train derailments, excessive truck traffic and heating gas shortages.
TransCanada has announced the project would take as much as 100,000 barrels per day of oil produced in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and Montana, which represents approximately 10 percent of current daily production.
Both Republicans and Democrats in North Dakota welcomed the positive report from the State Department, but expressed skepticism of the process to date. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who made approval of the Keystone pipeline part of her 2012 campaign, called the approval process for the pipeline so far “appalling.”
“Not only is it unacceptable, but it’s embarrassing that we cannot approve a pipeline application in the time it took us to fight World War II,” she said in a press release. She noted that the pipeline project wouldn’t be unique, joining thousands of miles of existing pipeline already built in the United States.
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, expressed similar frustration. “This latest State Department document adds to a pile of 15,500 pages of existing review on the most studied pipeline in history,” he said in a release. “Six years after the application to build Keystone XL was first submitted, Americans are still asking President Obama why he has not approved a project which will solve infrastructure problems and create jobs.”
Those infrastructure problems are on the minds of citizens in North Dakota and the upper Midwest.
During a recent meeting with Gov, Mark Dayton, some Minnesota state officials pointed to oil-by-rail shipments as contributing to a propane shortage that has left many citizens unable to heat their homes in the midst of frigid winter temperatures.
Amtrak has resorted to buses to get around packed rail lines. Basin Electric Power Cooperative reported it has trucks making up to 250 trips a day to transport coal from mines near Hazen that can’t be shipped by rail. Dave Berg, CEO of American Crystal Sugar, told the Associated Press that rail delays in North Dakota and Minnesota are costing his company millions of dollars.
Explosive train derailments near Casselton and in Canada have contributed to concerns over heavy rail traffic driven by increased oil production. According to the American Association of Railroads, “the U.S. rail traffic for 2013 saw record intermodal growth,” particularly in the area of oil shipments. Shipments of petroleum and petroleum-related products were “up 167,868 carloads or 31.1 percent” in 2013, according to the group.
In addition to derailments, the increased rail traffic has meant more oil spilled. In 2013 alone more oil was spilled by train derailment than the previous four decades combined, according to reporting from McClatchy.
The oil industry says the Keystone pipeline will help them take pressure off of roads and rails. Reacting to the new report, North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said “we need more infrastructure.”
“The Keystone XL pipeline will include an on-ramp for 100,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day, helping take more than 500 trucks off our roads daily, thereby improving the safety of our infrastructure,” he said.
The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released Friday noted that while the pipeline would contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, it would cause fewer emissions than alternate means of transporting Canadian oil. Last year Obama said his administration wouldn’t approve the project if it contributed to an increase in emissions.