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Pipeline expert disputes Awtry’s facts

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Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 12:00 am

Brigham A. McCown, United Transportation Advisors LLC

Editor’s note: The writer writes in rebuttal to Greg Awtry columns on the Keystone XL pipeline. McCown previously headed the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in Washington, D.C. where he served as the top pipeline regulator for the country. Given all of the media attention with respect to Keystone, he has taken the opportunity to respond to a recent York News-Times editorial concerning this issue.

While I respect the right of editorial writers to endorse opinions that counter my own, I must take issue with articles that so distort the facts they bear little resemblance to the truth.

Tuesday’s (Oct. 11) editorial (by News-Times Publisher Greg Awtry) entitled “Keystone XL Pipeline, EIS” falsely suggests that TransCanada (the company planning to build the pipeline) produced the environmental study known as an “EIS.”

That’s simply wrong. The National Environmental Policy Act, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, requires the government to create an EIS addressing potential environmental effects of proposed federal agency actions.

In the case of Keystone XL, the Obama administration’s Department of State was responsible for the EIS, which concluded the pipeline posed no significant risk to local communities.

Thousands of miles of pipeline already traverse the Ogallala aquifer, transporting oil and gas to local communities every day without incident. Not to mention the other 2.1 million miles of pipeline crisscrossing our country and delivering 65 percent of the energy supplies we use each day.

The Keystone XL pipeline is indistinguishable from these other pipelines, except that it is the most scrutinized interstate pipeline project in our nation’s history and, when built, will incorporate the most advanced pipeline safety technology available — making the EIS conclusions anything but surprising.

A previous editorial entitled “Oil and water don’t mix” also misrepresented the federal approval process by incorrectly claiming, “Nebraskans are left out of the loop.”

That’s simply not true. The Obama administration has been soliciting public comments — both online and through local meetings.

In fact, the federal government hosted two of these highly-publicized and well-attended events in Nebraska earlier in the month. Nebraskans (as well as Californians) even traveled all the way to Washington, D.C. for the latest hearing.

Let’s face it, the Obama administration is no fan of fossil fuels. There probably hasn’t been a more “environmentalist” administration since Jimmy Carter.

So when activists can’t even convince their ‘friends’ to take up their cause, there’s nothing left for them to do other than twist the truth and rile-up the public by claiming the sky is falling.

Distortion of the actual approval process is an attempt to encourage local leaders to divert scarce resources into well-intentioned but misguided efforts like the push for a special legislative session in Nebraska.

No matter how well-intentioned, a special session would not be helpful, yet that’s exactly what these national activist groups want.

By stymieing negotiations, increasing costs, hindering forward progress, and even encouraging litigation over the murky waters of federal versus state constitutional authority, opponents will get exactly what they’re hoping for — expensive, time-consuming chaos.

By letting common sense prevail, we avoid being manipulated by people desperately seeking media attention for their crusade against all fossil fuels, whatever the cost.

That’s right, when it comes down to it, this has very little to do with the pipeline, as even several activists openly admitted during last week’s public meeting In Washington, D.C.

Just read the comments made during those public meetings (you know, the ones the opposition activists are now claiming don’t exist) and the truth becomes clear.

National opponents want to stop this pipeline because they hope to set back production of new oilfields in Canada. They misguidedly believe that if they can stop all new production, they can force the U.S. to abandon fossil fuels.

I’m sure most of us would like to utilize alternative means of energy, but unfortunately green energy technology simply isn’t to the point where we can do that yet.

So until Mr. Fusion is available for our cars like in the “Back to the Future” movies, we need safe and reliable energy, and what better people to get it from than our Canadian allies.

Thank you for the opportunity to correct the record.

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