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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published November 02 2012

Choice for president may affect pace of pipeline project

WILLISTON, N.D. – The Keystone XL Pipeline, a point of contention during the presidential campaign, will likely move forward regardless of who is elected Tuesday, say current and former leaders from both parties.

But which president is at the helm could affect how quickly the pipeline is approved.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney has said he will approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to Texas, on the day he’s sworn in. Romney uses President Barack Obama’s denial of federal approval for the pipeline as an example of how he over-regulates the industry.

“How in the world the president said no to that pipeline, I will never know,” Romney said during one of the presidential debates.

However, Obama approved the southern half of the pipeline, with studies continuing on the rest of the route.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said his Domestic Energy and Jobs Act includes approving the northern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline. The bill has passed the House, and it’s been introduced in the Senate.

“I have a lot of sponsors,” Hoeven said. “We’ll continue to push that legislation.”

If the energy package doesn’t pass, Hoeven said he would put the pipeline in a separate bill.

The Keystone XL pipeline is important to North Dakota because it will bring 100,000 barrels per day of Bakken oil to U.S. refineries, Hoeven said.

While the pipeline does not run through North Dakota, feeder pipelines from within the state would connect to it.

Completing the Keystone XL Pipeline is a major step to North American energy independence, Hoeven said. Currently the United States gets 70 percent of its oil from North America, and with the addition of the pipeline, it will be more than 76 percent, Hoeven said.

“A few more steps like that and we’re there,” Hoeven said of reaching energy independence.

Hoeven said he expects that if Romney is elected, the pipeline will be approved in January. It may take another six months if Obama is re-elected, Hoeven said. “I believe we’ll get it,” he said.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said if Obama is elected, the future of the Keystone XL Pipeline depends on the environmental impact study.

“It’s already been completed in the southern states but the hang-up is in Nebraska, and South Dakota in part, because of the Ogallala Aquifer,” Johnson said. “They were trying to figure out a way to get around that. As soon as they do, and study the environmental impact, they’ll be ready to go.”

Former Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said even if Obama hadn’t halted the project, the environmental concerns in Nebraska would have delayed the project anyway.

“The president did the right thing, in my judgment, in making certain that the issues of routing in Nebraska were dealt with,” Dorgan said. “Those were significant issues with respect to a major aquifer. It’s always been my expectation that when all of those things are done, that ultimately this administration will be supporting the completion of the pipeline.”

However, David Flynn, chairman of the University of North Dakota economics department, said while he believes Keystone XL is more likely to be approved under Romney, he doesn’t think the project will move forward under either candidate.

“I see energy policy being paid a significant amount of lip service without a lot of actual detail about how something is going to get done, and how they’re going to overcome any local hurdles, any international hurdles or realistically how this fits into their overall fiscal plan at this point in time,” Flynn said.

Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, a Republican who serves on the board for Continental Resources, a major oil developer in the Bakken, said he thinks Obama halted the pipeline so he wouldn’t lose votes from environmentalists before the election.

“He seems to be driven more by the politics of the issue other than if it’s the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do,” said Schafer, also former U.S. agriculture secretary.

While Schafer said he believes the pipeline will be approved under either presidency, he said it would move forward immediately under Romney but could take a year longer under Obama.

“They’ll meddle around that from a regulatory standpoint because that’s what this administration stands for,” Schafer said. “The longer you delay and the more meddling you put into it, the more costly it becomes.”

Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic reporter Anna Jauhola contributed to this report.


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Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.