By Malia Rulon Herman, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The Keystone XL pipeline is not only environmentally sound but would decrease emissions and save lives, proponents of the project said at a joint hearing before two House subcommittees Tuesday.
Completing the pipeline would take 300 to 500 trucks off the road each day, Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources and the North Dakota Industrial Commission Oil & Gas Division, told lawmakers.
Those trucks are now being used to transport 5,000-10,000 barrels of sour North Dakota crude every day to pipelines in Canada and to transport 35,000 barrels per day into North Dakota to access rail lines, he said at the joint hearing before the Science, Space, and Technology subcommittees on energy and the environment.
If the northern part of Keystone is completed, the pipeline would transport up to 100,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude, Helms said.
Production from the Bakken oil formation is booming in North Dakota, but problems have arisen due to "major shortfalls in pipeline capacity," he said.
Completing the pipeline also would mean one-to-two fewer trains leaving the state each day, Helms told lawmakers.
He said trucks emit 2.9 times more greenhouse gas emissions than the pipeline, and trains emit 1.8 times more emissions.
Additionally, crashes involving semi-trucks rose substantially in North Dakota between 2006 and 2011, Helms said.
"Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is expected to reduce highway fatalities in North Dakota by three to six per year and injury crashes by 85 to 150 annually," he said.
His testimony came as lawmakers continued to pressure the Obama administration to approve the long-delayed pipeline project.
The State Department is in the midst of an extensive environmental review, after which the president is expected to make a final decision on the 1,179-mile line from Canada's oil sands region to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
That decision could come late this summer or early fall. Meanwhile, House and Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation to allow Congress to approve the project without the president's consent.
Brigham McCown, former acting administrator and deputy administrator of the Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, told lawmakers that "based on the available information and plans for construction, the completed Keystone system would be the safest pipeline ever built in this country, if not in the entire world."
But Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council told lawmakers that pipelines moving tar sands have the worst spill record, and pipelines carrying high-temperature tar sands are at greater risk of leaks.
He said leak detection systems don't work as well as they should and that tar sands spills are more damaging and difficult to clean up than other oil spills.
"Communities have a right to be concerned by the poor state of leak detection technology as they face industry proposals to move tar sands in new or aging pipelines, particularly ones that transverse sensitive water resources," he said.
Committee chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said the pipeline represents a "shovel-ready" project that would create more than 40,000 jobs.
"The Keystone Pipeline creates jobs and enhances our energy independence with minimal impact to the environment," he said. "This project, which has been thoroughly evaluated, should be approved immediately."
Correction 5/8/13: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Lynn Helms as a woman.