Montana tribes seek Keystone route changeSource: Great Falls Tribune
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Karl Puckett , firstname.lastname@example.org
The current route of the Keystone XL Pipeline through Montana could pollute the water source of 30,000 residents if it were to break or leak, according to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation.
As a precaution, the tribes plan to ask developer TransCanada to adjust the Montana route and have three alternatives in mind, said Bob McAnally, former in-house counsel for the tribes who now serves as a commissioner on the Assiniboine Sioux Rural Water Supply System.
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“We’re quite, quite worried about what would happen if there was a malfunction or break in that line,” McAnally said.
The commission oversees construction and operation of the portion of the $193 million, 3,200-mile-long water pipeline located within the 100-mile-long by 40-mile-wide reservation.
The rest of the system is located off the reservation with that portion run by the Dry Prairie Rural Water Association.
The proposed oil pipeline route doesn’t cross the reservation.
But the intake of the water supply system, which is between the reservation communities of Wolf Point and Poplar, draws water from the Missouri River 30 to 35 miles downstream from where the proposed oil pipeline would cross beneath the river.
If a leak occurred, McAnally said, tribal officials are worried that it could pollute the Missouri River and the water supply, damaging the water treatment plant near Wolf Point and requiring water to be shut off to users.
“We’re concerned about the fresh water supply,” McAnally said.
He noted a break in a smaller oil pipeline crossing underneath the Yellowstone River in January 2015 spilled 30,000 gallons of oil from with benzene ending up in the Glendive water treatment plant.
Tribal leaders plan to propose three different alternative routes in an upcoming meeting they have requested with TransCanada, McAnally said Monday.
“They have options they could look at and it wouldn’t cost them much more, we don’t think,” he said.
The 1,179-mile, 36-inch crude oil pipeline would connect the oil sands of northern Alberta to Nebraska, where it would be linked with existing pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries.
In Montana, the oil pipeline, which would carry up to 830,000 barrels per day, crosses Phillips, Valley, McCone, Dawson and Fallon counties, and underneath the Missouri, Milk and Yellowstone rivers.
In February 2015, the tribal council approved a resolution in opposition to the project, also citing the potential for oil leaks affecting the water supply.
“We’re trying to reach out to all the impacted groups,” said Terry Cunha, a spokesman for TransCanada, which has offices in Calgary and Houston.
TransCanada is interested in the views of stakeholders along the pipeline right-of-way, Cunha added.
“We remain committed to ongoing engagement with tribal nations,” he said.
In November 2015, President Barack Obama rejected the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, concluding it wasn’t in the nation’s interest.
“We were grateful for President Obama to hold it off for so many years,” McAnally said.
After he took office last month, one of President Donald Trump’s first executive orders encouraged TransCanada to reapply to the State Department for the presidential permit needed because the oil pipeline would cross an international border.
TransCanada resubmitted its application Jan. 26, Cunha said.
The State Department now has 60 days to make a decision on the presidential permit for the pipeline, he said.
The company also has submitted an application for route approval to the Nebraska Public Service Commission. That process could take up to a year, he said.
The company has already received route approval in Montana and South Dakota.
Construction could begin in the latter half of 2018, Cunha said.
TransCanada has said the pipeline will be the safest ever to cross U.S soil, with flexible, high-strength carbon steel planned near waterways that can withstand the impact of a 65-ton excavator with 3-and-half-inch teeth.
The steel will be specially designed to reduce corrosion and enhance strength and pliability, it says.
The water system provides water to municipal, rural and industrial uses across a vast area in northeastern Montana. The 3,200 miles of pipeline includes the main, branch and hook-up lines.
It is 65 to 70 percent complete.
The water treatment plant, which is located near Wolf Point, is currently treating 35 to 40 million gallons a month.
When it is finished, it will provide water to some 30,000 people, including the communities of Wolf Point, Poplar, Brockton, Fort Kipp, Oswego and Frazer on the Fort Peck Reservation, and residents in Nashua, St. Marie, Scobey, Plentywood and Culbertson off the reservation.
While Fort Peck tribes are against the pipeline, “we have to be realistic about this,” McAnally said.
“It’s just a fact of politics and economics that people in power want this to happen,” he said.
The tribes still want a say in where the pipeline is located, which is prompting the meeting with TransCanada, he added.
While counties where the Keystone pipeline is proposed would reap tax revenue “that’s not what we’re concerned about,” he said.
“Water to us is a sacred gift,” McAnally said.
The tribes consider it a duty to protect and utilize the water in the best way possible, rather than using it solely as an economic engine, although McAnally noted that that water lines could be used in the future to spur economic development.
Construction of Dakota Access pipeline across North Dakota prompted protests from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and conservation groups over concerns about its proximity to the tribe’s drinking water source.
The situation in Fort Peck is similar in that the Keystone pipeline, although not located on the reservation, could potentially impact water on the reservation, McAnally said.
Tribes at Fort Peck would prefer to avoid protests like those that occurred at Standing Rock, McAnally said, preferring to settle the issue via negotiations with TransCanada if possible.