Keystone XL was a bad idea in the first place.

Farm Forum

“The Keystone XL is no longer relevant” so says Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, the biggest player in the Bakken. When TransCanada applied for its permit from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission in 2009, the U.S. imported 60 percent of its petroleum needs. Now, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is well on its way to being energy-independent. The EIA projects that from the years 2020 to 2040, the U.S. will import only 7 percent of its petroleum needs. Increased fuel efficiency in automobiles could actually make the U.S. a net exporter of oil to the tune of 8 percent a year. The U.S. will become energy-independent without the Keystone XL , or KXL, and the KXL will be nothing more than a means for Canada to ship their tarsands crude across privately owned land in the U.S. to the Gulf Coast where it will go on the world market.

The KXL is currently being held up in Nebraska pending a decision on a lawsuit that challenges the route. In South Dakota the KXL permit needs to be certified by the Public Utilities Commission, or PUC. TransCanada claims that all the conditions of the permit issued in 2010 are still being satisfied and TransCanada feels that certification will be an easy matter. Dakota Rural Action, along with 42 other intervenors in the permit hearings, feels otherwise. The permit will be challenged on the basis that there is no longer a need for the pipeline; that the pipeline will be a threat to clean water, both to the Missouri River and the Ogallala Aquifer in Tripp County; the lack of a proper cultural resources survey; a poor job of reclamation on Keystone 1; as well as other issues. The PUC treated landowners fairly in the initial KXL hearings in 2010 and added 50 amended conditions to the permit, due in large part to landowner concerns. We fully expect the PUC to be fair once again in the upcoming hearings.

Much is made of the job estimates and the tax revenue that will be received by counties along the route. TransCanada, themselves, claims only around 3,900 seasonal jobs will be created for two years. These jobs will be highly skilled. Only 10-15 percent if the jobs will be sourced locally. About a third of the 1,179 miles of pipeline remaining to be laid will be in Canada; therefore, about a third of these jobs will be Canadian jobs, not American jobs.

Most of the workers will live in man camps designed to hold 600 to 1,500 workers. Three man camps are slated to be built: near Buffalo; south of Faith near Howes Corner; and south of Colome. These camps will be self-contained with mess halls, laundries, and clinics. Workers will be bused from the camps to the worksite and then bused home at the end of the day. There will be nowhere the economic activity in the small towns along the route that local businesses are expecting.

The promise of a huge tax revenue windfall to the counties along the route is another issue that needs to be examined. In recent ads in all the South Dakota newspapers TransCanada is promising additional tax revenues of $20 million per year. Up until a couple of months ago their promise had been at $10.3 million. How did these promises of new tax revenue magically double overnight? TransCanada has never shown their methodology in arriving at these figures. An investigative report done by Keloland in November of 2011 found that counties along the Keystone 1 route were only receiving a third of the revenues promised by TransCanada, closer to $3 million received rather than the $9 million promised by TransCanada.

TransCanada makes much of their claim that the KXL will be the newest and safest pipeline ever built. TransCanada has estimated that there would only be one leak in South Dakota in 29 years. In fact, there were 12 leaks in South Dakota on the Keystone 1 in the first year of operation. They talk of their SCADA detection system being able to detect leaks down to 1.5 percent. A leak of 1.5 percent for the 830,000 barrels per day moving through the KXL comes out to 520,000 gallons per day that would leak without being detected by their electronic monitoring. Well then, TransCanada’s answer to that is they will rely on landowners to detect anything below the 1.5 percent detection threshold. Last year an 800,000 gallon leak from a pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, was only caught when the landowner was combining a wheat field and he noticed the combine tires were covered with black crude oil. They are still cleaning the spill up and are digging down 50 feet to retrieve the contaminated soil. Despite the promises of safety by pipeline companies these spills are happening all the time.

The Keystone XL was a bad idea in the first place. It won’t provide the jobs or the local tax revenues that are promised and it is not needed to achieve energy independence. Dakota Rural Action feels that President Obama has all the facts that he needs to deny the KXL permit. If Congress continues its attempt to force him to make a decision before the Presidential Permit process is allowed to play out then we would ask that his decision be in favor of putting a stop to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Paul Seamans’ ranch south of Draper is on the Keystone XL route. He is a board member of Dakota Rural Action. Dakota Rural Action is a grassroots family agriculture and conservation group that organizes South Dakotans to protect our family farmers, ranchers, natural resources and unique way of life.