Senators urge Obama not to delay Keystone XL decision again

Four US senators asked the Obama administration not to delay a decision on the proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline’s cross-border permit because the US Department of State inspector general’s office is investigating the project’s draft supplemental environmental impact statement.

An earlier DOS IG office investigation of the project’s original EIS for alleged conflicts of interest found none, Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), John Thune (R-ND), and Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) jointly observed on Aug. 29.

Their request came 6 days after the IG’s office said the latest inquiry might not be finished until 2014, but would consider findings and recommendations from the earlier examination which were released in February 2012.

Deferring the decision until 2014 would extend the administration’s deliberations into an unprecedented sixth year, the senators noted.

“This marks the fourth delay of the Keystone XL project since 2011, when [DOS] issued its final EIS finding no significant environmental impact and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton informed me that the agency expected to make a decision by December of that year,” Hoeven said. “This tactic of delay and deferral must stop.”

“We cannot sit by while excuse after excuse delays jobs in Montana and across the country,” said Baucus. “We've had years of studies and the president’s own State Department has repeatedly concluded the environment won't be harmed. It’s past time to put Americans to work building the Keystone pipeline.”

Thune noted, “Bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress have voted in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, and poll after poll continues to show that the majority of Americans support the job-creating project, yet the president remains beholden to the extreme environmental wing of his party.”

‘Time is up’

Landrieu said, “Time is up for President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. We cannot miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow our economy, secure our energy independence, and reduce our oil imports from countries that do not share our values.”

The proposed pipeline is of additional interest to Hoeven, Baucus, and Thune because its sponsor, TransCanada Corp., has dedicated 25% of its projected 830,000 b/d capacity to shipping lighter crude from the prolific Bakken formation which would otherwise move by rail or be stranded.

Such shipments are helping offset declining coal transportation demand for many freight rail lines, but a July 6 derailment and fire near Lac-Megantic in Quebec of a train carrying Bakken crude to an eastern Canadian refinery took 47 lives and caused extensive property damage.

The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said on Sept. 4 that it would begin to consider changing requirements for transporting crude oil and other hazardous materials by rail, including possible design changes for DOT 111 tank cars, a type of nonpressure tank car commonly used in North America.

PHMSA said its advanced notice of possible rulemaking followed a visit by its administrator, Cynthia Quarterman, to Bakken operations in Montana and North Dakota, where she observed rail operations and the application of DOT regulations in an area where oil and gas production has doubled in the past 3 years.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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