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Gascoyne pipe pile meant for Keystone XL

Pipe owned by TransCanada Corp., which is made for use in the Keystone XL pipeline, sits in piles near the ghost town of Gascoyne, located between Scranton and Reeder, on Thursday

GASCOYNE -- As politicians, energy industry leaders and environmentalists point fingers, argue and debate about a controversial oil pipeline that would link Alberta to Texas, Angie Mikkelson went about business as usual at her place of employment Thursday afternoon.

The Gascoyne Materials Handling & Recycling office complex sits along a gravel road about a mile north of Highway 12 on a quiet and peaceful plot of land that was once a coal mine, a site now owned by Dickinson businessman Bill Pladson.

The small building in the process of being renovated is just steps from thousands of pieces of 80-foot metal pipe stacked into rows and tagged for use in the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

A dizzying layout of stacked cylinders -- most painted with a white latex-like substance to protect them from the elements -- has for more than two years been stationed next to a railyard 4 miles east of Scranton, a town with fewer than 300 people far removed from Washington, D.C., politics.

"It's just an everyday thing for us," Mikkelson said. "I don't even think about it anymore. I've heard so much about the Keystone (XL), I don't really care anymore. Nothing much happens with the pipe, except for the cats that live in them."

Despite the remote location, Alpha6 Inc., a private security company based in Gladstone, is contracted to guard the pipeline for TransCanada's multi-million dollar investment with personnel stationed at the site 24 hours a day.

A security guard working at the site Thursday said much of her time is spent either reading or watching movies on a wireless device.

"We're basically there to make sure there is no vandalism or damage done during hunting seasons," said Darcy Fossum, the owner of Alpha6. "We have somebody there 24/7 to keep an eye on things and make sure nothing happens at the site."

No set shipping date

No one knows when the roughly 200 miles of pipe could be shipped from the site for its intended use as part of the more than 1,110-mile Keystone XL pipeline that would bring crude from the Canadian oil sands through America to the Gulf of Mexico.

The southern portion of pipeline in Oklahoma and Texas already has been cleared for construction. But the northern section, which requires federal approval because it crosses the border with Canada continues to be debated.

It would bring crude from the Canadian oil sands crude, and some Bakken crude, to the Gulf of Mexico.

Continuing his aggressive push for State Department approval of the pipeline following President Barack Obama's recent critical comments about the project in The New York Times, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., issued a press release Thursday warning that delays in the approval of the pipeline could lead energy giant TransCanada -- the project's parent -- shipping Canadian oil to places such as China and India.

"As we've said all along, the Canadian oil sands will be developed with or without U.S. participation," Hoeven said in a statement. "The question is, will President Obama allow that oil to go east and west to Asia, with no benefit to the American people, or will he approve the permit for the Keystone XL project, spurring jobs, economic growth and energy security for the U.S. and our people?"

Hoeven's office pointed to a proposed $12 billion, 2,800-mile pipeline project -- dubbed the Energy East Pipeline -- to carry oil to the province of New Brunswick on Canada's east coast, a project that could be completed by 2018 and would make it easier for TransCanada to sell petroleum products to India.

On Friday, however, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said his company's contracts to transport oil to buyers based in Texas are separate from other contracts.

"That's important for people to understand," Howard said. "We have contracts for shippers and refiners on the Gulf Coast for oil that will move through Keystone XL, and we have separate commercial contracts with shippers, producers and refiners in Canada for the Energy East Pipeline. We're talking about completely separate projects and products -- the end customers are different."

Howard added that the pipeline made for Keystone XL could not be used for the Energy East Pipeline because of differences in dimensions.

With both proponents and opponents of Keystone XL dialing up their rhetoric in recent days following Obama's comments questioning the project's job-creation potential and environmental impact, the respective camps seem to be making sure no argument is left unused.

Meanwhile, in southwestern North Dakota, thousands of pipes continue to collect dust and be nothing more than a home for feral cats.

"I think other people are a lot more worried about it than we are," Mikkelson said. "It's like the railroad -- it just sits there. It's pretty much just us, the cats and some fox that chill out there in the spring."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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