SD Gov. Daugaard says he supports oil pipeline

By Chet Brokaw
Pierre, South Dakota (AP) October 2011

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he believes the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline would be safe and help South Dakota’s fledgling oil industry as it delivers Canadian oil to U.S. refineries.

South Dakota now has a small oil patch in the northwestern part of the state, but officials are working to encourage more exploration and production in other regions that show promise. Montana and North Dakota have already negotiated a deal that would allow oil produced in those states to be placed in the Keystone XL pipeline for delivery to refineries in the South, and South Dakota oil also might be placed in the pipeline, Daugaard said.

“South Dakota oil will be that much more valuable because it has a transportation route through the XL pipeline,” Daugaard told The Associated Press.

Daugaard said he could not attend a hearing held in Pierre by the U.S. State Department, which will decide whether to approve the 1,700-mile pipeline, but that an aide would deliver a letter from him urging federal officials to approve the project. The pipeline needs approval from the State Department because it would cross the U.S.-Canada border.

Officials of environmental groups and ranchers along the proposed Keystone XL route disagreed with the governor, saying they believe the pipeline could leak and pollute land and water supplies.

Tripp County rancher John Harter said if the pipeline leaks where it would cross his land, oil would quickly foul water in a shallow aquifer. The nearby city of Colome has wells on Harter’s land, but he said TransCanada has refused to take extra steps to bolster protections against leaks in the area.

“They can’t clean it up,” Harter said. “If we have to have this pipeline, have a safe pipeline.”

Echoing arguments made by business groups and other supporters of the project, Daugaard said the proposed pipeline will create jobs in South Dakota and pay more than $10 million in local property taxes each year.

The Republican governor said he believes adequate steps have been taken to prevent serious leaks.

Daugaard noted that the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has approved a construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from the northwestern corner of the state to the border with Nebraska in south-central South Dakota. He said he believes the State Department’s environmental study of the project correctly concluded that the pipeline poses no danger to the environment.

“I’m satisfied the likelihood of leaks is very small,” Daugaard told The Associated Press.

“The degree to which the pipeline will be monitored is higher than in most cases, in most pipelines,” Daugaard said.

However, opponents said they believe the pipeline will leak if it’s built.

Matt McGovern of the National Wildlife Federation said the original Keystone pipeline built across eastern South Dakota had a dozen spills in its first year of operation. A leak in May at a pumping station in southeastern North Dakota spilled more than 14,000 gallons of oil, he said.

“They don’t have a good safety record,” McGovern said.

The proposed $7 billion TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline would deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. It would cross Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas before hooking up with TransCanada’s existing pipelines to move oil to Oklahoma and Texas. The company says about 3,000 workers would be hired to build the South Dakota portion, which would cost $470 million.

The hearing in Pierre was one of eight the State Department has held this week in states along the proposed Keystone XL route. Supporters far outnumbered opponents among the crowd of about 250 at the hearing, partly because unions based in Minnesota bused in members to testify in support of the project.

Supporters wore T-shirts carrying the words “Keystone XL Means Jobs” and “Build Keystone XL Now.” Opponents countered with shirts with a different message: “No Tar Sands.”

Daugaard has joined North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer in endorsing the pipeline. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has urged the State Department to deny a federal permit for the pipeline because it could harm the Ogallala Aquifer that supplies drinking and irrigation water to Nebraska and other states in the region, but he has said he would support the pipeline project if TransCanada changed its route.

McGovern and other opponents said the pipeline would do little to help South Dakota and other Midwestern states because the oil would wind up on the Gulf of Mexico, but Daugaard said he would rather have the U.S. obtain needed oil from a friendly neighbor than from unstable overseas nations that are sometimes hostile to the U.S.

Andrea Jalbert, Keystone’s director of safety and environment, said federal safety officials have agreed to 57 conditions that would ensure the pipeline does not cause pollution. It will be buried deeper than other pipelines and valves with backup power supplies would quickly shut down the oil flow in the event of a leak, she said.

“This pipeline will be the safest pipeline that’s ever been built,” Jalbert said.

But Patrick Spears of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy said American Indian tribes in the area oppose the project because an oil spill could pollute streams and rivers, all of which flow to the Missouri River.

“We don’t think it’s worth it to pollute the land and the water,” Spears said.

Harding County rancher Jim Doolittle said he supports the project even though it would cross four miles of his land.

“It’s going to be really a boost for the local economy. It’s going to be good for the U.S. getting oil from a friendly North American neighbor,” said Doolittle, former director of the Black Hills Community Economic Development organization, a member of a business coalition that supports the project.

“I guess we wouldn’t support it if we didn’t think it was a safe way to transport oil,” Doolittle said.

But Rosebud Sioux Tribal Chairman Rodney Bordeaux said the project, which would run near the tribe’s reservation in southern South Dakota, could cause an environmental disaster and construction could disturb old tribal burial grounds.

“We like to look at ourselves as stewards of the land,” Bordeaux said.