Monday, May 17, 2010

Public hearings on oil pipeline begin in Montana

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Public hearings in Montana are being held this week to discuss a plan to build a pipeline through eastern Montana to move crude extracted from Canada's oil sands to refineries in the United States.

Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. aims to start construction this year on the 1,980-mile Keystone XL pipeline.

The first of six meetings is planned for Monday in Malta. Additional meetings are set in Glasgow, Terry, Circle and Glendive. The final meeting is Thursday in Baker.

TransCanada is proposing to pay landowners for the right to install pipe 4 feet underground.

"I would like to encourage all citizens, if they have any concerns about the safety and environmental impact of this, to go to the comment periods and speak up," said Sandra Barnick, a landowner in the path of the pipeline and one of 40 members of the Northern Pipeline Landowners Group.

"What we are taking a stand on is making sure we are treated fairly and that regulations are adhered to and that there is equitable compensation for everybody along the pipeline," Barnick said.

Jeff Rauh, TransCanada spokesman, said a draft environmental study found the impact of a potential oil spill to be minimal, and the pipeline could be shut down if there were a problem.

"The risk of an oil spill is small," Rauh said. "If a spill occurred, the volume spilled would likely be small."

The pipeline would cross 220 miles of private land in Montana, 19.1 miles of state land, and 42.6 miles of U.S. Bureau of Land Management property, said Tom Ring of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

He said the state's preferred route for the pipeline is slightly different from the one proposed by TransCanada to limit impacts on stream crossings and landowners.

Under political pressure, the company said it is considering letting Montana and North Dakota crude oil into the pipeline. The company previously rebuffed calls to build an "onramp" for crude from the Bakken oil fields of Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan, saying there was insufficient demand.

The Bakken formation holds an estimated 3.65 billion barrels of oil, much less than the 1.7 trillion barrels of petroleum in Canada's oil sands.

Information from: Great Falls Tribune,

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