(Billings, MT – Yellowstone Public Radio) - Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer says pipelines will continue to be part of the state’s landscape -- despite a recent spill--and he hopes regulators will give a green light constructing another one.
On July 1, 2011, an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil into the Wild and Scenic Yellowstone River.
TransCanada wants to build a pipeline -- the Keystone XL -- that will carry crude from oil fields in Alberta Canada, through Montana and on to Cushing, Oklahoma.
Schweitzer, a Democrat, says federal regulators will decide whether the Keystone XL pipeline becomes a reality. He added that it would be an opportunity lost, however, if the pipeline isn’t built.
“The Keystone represents about 5% of the oil we use in this country. There’s a lot of oil in Alberta,” Schweitzer said. “I would rather buy it from our neighbors to the north than I would from petro-dictators in Africa or the Middle East.”
Schweitzer spoke in Billings Wednesday to a group of landowners who have property along the Yellowstone River affected by the oil spill.
Citing the Yellowstone River oil spill, environmentalists have stepped up opposition to the Keystone XL project
An estimated 79 protesters, some affiliated with the group Rising Tide North America, some with Earth First!, demonstrated on Tuesday at the State Capitol in Helena. They demanded a meeting with Schweitzer. Eventually, the governor agreed to meet with the group in the reception room.
The meeting broke up after someone started playing a piano in the room and about a dozen protesters jumped on the large tables and began dancing and stomping their feet. Schweitzer left, and five protesters were later arrested. They pleaded not guilty in Helena Municipal Court. The protesters were released without bail Tuesday on the conditions that they remain law abiding and stay away from the Capitol.
During a public meeting in Billings the next day, Schweitzer was asked about the incident. “Well, some of the folks who don’t like the Keystone are snappy dressers -- and good dancers, I found out,” he quipped.
He said there will be pipelines built in Montana in the future because the state has oil and cars use it. There is a current oil boom in eastern Montana and northern North Dakota.
“Look, any new pipeline that’s going to be built in Montana is going to be built to the most modern up-to-date standards,” he said. He said the alternative is to transport crude and gasoline by semi trucks or trains, but those are not fail-safe either. “Through time we’ve found that these pipelines are probably safer than some of the other ways of moving oil and gasoline around."
Schweitzer says while no one wants breaks to occur, as long as we continue to use gasoline, citizens in some way accept that accidents can and do happen.
“And so we’re going to hold this company (ExxonMobil) and other companies that have spilled oil, they understand that it’s their liability. They understand that it's their mistake and they’re responsible for this effort. But until we don’t use oil anymore we all have some responsibility here,” Schweitzer says.
ExxonMobil officials said continuing high and fast water in the Yellowstone River is hampering efforts to determine why the Silvertip Pipeline broke. The pipeline carries oil from fields in Wyoming to an ExxonMobil refinery in Billings, Montana.
During a Congressional hearing today on the pipeline break, company officials said if regulators approve, the tentative plan is to replace the Silvertip pipeline with new technology.
Pipelines are regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Adminsitration (PMHSA) in the US Department of Transportation.