Proposed TransCanada Keystone XL Project holds open house in Philip

Construction of a proposed 36-inch crude-oil pipeline through Haakon County is not expected to start until 2011. Actual excavation on any piece of land is estimated to take seven weeks, with complete land reclamation taking less than two to three years. Then the pipeline will be out of sight and no problem for landowners.

This was the summation at an informational open house on Wednesday, June 25, at the Fine Arts Building in Philip. Project Director Ken Murchie presented an overview, then opened a question and answer period for the audience. Over 60 area residents attended.

The 12 experts presented information and visuals on the proposed TransCanada and ConocoPhillips Keystone XL pipeline project. The XL project is in addition to the Keystone pipeline planned to go through eastern South Dakota. Both lines would carry crude oil from the oil fields in Alberta, Canada, to major refineries in southeastern Texas.

The proposed XL would pass through parts of eight western South Dakota counties. Haakon County would have the third largest amount of estimated capital expenditures, after Harding and Tripp counties. The proposed expenditures in Haakon County would be $153.2 million and the estimated future county taxes would be $3.2 million yearly.

The proposed line of pipe would enter Haakon County at its northwestern corner. It would proceed southeast, exiting the county around four miles north of the southeast corner. A potential pump station would be in a four-mile area somewhere between Meade County and where Highway 34 turns east about eight miles west of Billsburg.

During the presentation and the question and answer period, Murchie and Bud Anderson, stake holder relations for TransCanada, stressed the 'proposed' aspect of the project. They gave a long list of federal agencies and their regulations which TransCanada and ConocoPhillips must satisfy. Canada actually supplies the most crude oil to America, with Saudi Arabia being the next largest supplier and the market for gasoline is booming. Canadian's drilling and mining of crude oil can match the growing capacity of Texas refineries. The Keystone and the Keystone XL pipelines are needed to transport the crude oil to the refineries.

TransCanada will pay landowners a fair-market value for a 50-foot permanent easement for the pipeline. During construction, landowners will be compensated for an extra width of easement for the construction zone. The XL pipeline's original capacity will be 700,000 barrels of crude oil per day, with the eventual capability of 900,000 barrels per day.

The XL pipeline would be 36-inches in diameter, laid in 80-foot segments and each foot would be about 180 pounds of steel. Murchie illustrated the multiple welding procedures, the coating and other protections and the continual inspections that the pipe would go through.

The top of the pipe will usually be at least four foot under ground. The pipe will go under other buried utilities, including landowners' water lines. Water aquifers, by nature, are in confining areas that have layers of clay and other materials which protect them from oil. Murchie said that if a spill were to ever occur, any contamination would be extremely localized; only hundreds of feet at most rather than miles. Any and all spills would be cleaned up by TransCanada to federal and state specifications.

According to Murchie, one specific question from the audience was the best that he had heard. "Yes, in some areas the amount of electrical power available to run the pump stations, the emergency shut-off valve system and the continual inspections will be a challenge. But, we are prepared to work with the utility companies on that," said Murchie.

The One-Call system, which should be used by everyone before they dig, would have the exact location of the oil pipe and TransCanada would always have a presence. "We won't go away once the pipeline is completed," said Murchie.