WASHINGTON — Oil sands crude is no different from other heavy oils and has been transported safely through pipelines since 1968 without a single instance of a spill caused by internal corrosion, a former top Bush administration on Wednesday told House panels reviewing the security of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
“The completed Keystone system would be the safest pipeline ever built in this country, if not the entire world,” said Brigham McCown, former chief of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for President George W. Bush.
Pipelines are the safest mode of transportation for moving large volumes of energy products, and more accidents are likely to occur when shipped by rail, McCown said.
The State Department appears to concur, and in a recent report said “spills associated with the proposed project that enter the environment are expected to be rare and relatively small.”
McCown was part of a panel testifying before a joint hearing of the House Science, Space and Technology subcommittees on Energy and Environment to review major objections to the pipeline’s construction – whether it can be safely operated and whether it will significantly contribute to climate change.
TransCanada first requested permission nearly five years ago from the Obama administration to build the 1,700 mile pipeline from Alberta to oil refineries in Texas. After years of studies, the State Department released its fourth environmental review in March that said the pipeline would not have a significant environmental impact or effect on climate change and green house gas emissions.
“Today, TransCanada still waits for the federal government to decide whether allowing a company to create more than 40,000 jobs building a pipeline to deliver oil from an ally is in our national interest,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the full committee.
“Many Americans would consider such a decision to be simple. But the federal government has required millions of dollars, years of study and thousands of pages of reports,” Smith said.
The worst-case scenario put forth by the State Department predicted that the pipeline would cause an increase of twelve one-thousandths of one percent in U.S. annual carbon dioxide emissions.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) blamed the holdup on some environmentalists he says are opposed to every oil and gas deal considered by the federal government.
“During my lifetime, (this) group of people opposed every single new project, always for some reason,” Rohrabacher said.
“This is significant as to whether we are going to have prosperity in this country. The American people understand how fragile we are economically – 7.5 percent unemployment rating – and whoever believes that probably also believes in global warming,” Rohrabacher said.
The California Republican compared opposition to Keystone to that of the Alaska pipeline that was constructed after the 1973 oil crisis.
“There were horrendous predictions of what would happen if we built the Alaska pipeline. We heard the caribou would disappear but now there are more caribou than ever. We’ve got to start using our heads when we make these decisions,” Rohrabacher said.
“It has nothing to do with safety, it has everything to do with global warming theory. I believe the global warming theory that mankind has impacted the climate has been so exaggerated, this will bring down the standard of living of the American people,” Rohrabacher said.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) interjected his agreement that he “shared the gentleman’s concern about caribou,” but apparently misinterpreted his California colleague’s argument.
“I eat caribou,” Rohrabacher responded.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said that nearly 60 additional safety conditions have been built into the proposed Keystone development, however the Obama administration continues to “stall the project to death.”
“I don’t understand how the president can claim to be for job growth,” Lummis said.
Those safety protocols cover the construction of the pipeline, operational practices, maintenance, damage prevention and emergency response.
President Barack Obama is still considering whether the $5.3 billion project is within the national interest and is not expected to make a decision until the end of the year. However, the House is expected to vote later this month on legislation that would circumvent Obama’s authority and expedite construction.