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Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D, gestures as speaks about the Keystone Pipeline during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. A key approval of a revised route for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast puts the long-delayed project back in the hands of the U.S. government. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Hoeven: Recent spills shouldn't deter Keystone XL's construction

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While opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have used recent oil spills to bemoan its potential construction, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., took to the floor of the U.S. Senate this week with a different view.

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"Pipelines are the safest, most efficient way to transport oil and gas," Hoeven said Wednesday on the Senate floor. "The recent incidents actually highlight the need to build new infrastructure using the latest technology."

Highlighted by an incident involving an ExxonMobil pipeline mishap in Mayflower, Ark., a pair of recent U.S. oil spills -- the other occurring in Texas -- have energized those who oppose the Keystone XL project, which would complete a pipeline system to transport heavy tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

In the case of the Mayflower spill, Hoeven pointed out to his Senate colleagues that the ruptured pipeline -- which garnered a lot of national news coverage -- was constructed in the 1940s.

"The opponents of the Keystone XL are trying to use those spills as reasons to not approve the pipeline," Hoeven told The Press on Friday.

During his statement on the Senate floor, Hoeven remarked about the Keystone XL's technological advances. The pipeline would be monitored 24 hours a day with satellites sending data from 25,000 data points to a monitoring center.

"If a drop in pressure is detected, any section of the pipeline can be isolated remotely, closing any of the hundreds of valves on the system within minutes," Hoeven said.

He added that accidents or spills, compared to pipeline, are 1,000 times more likely to occur when delivering oil by truck, 15 times more likely by barge and five times more likely by rail.

Hoeven said the recent spills in Arkansas and Texas were promptly addressed and the incidents would have "no lasting impact on the environment," adding the companies which owned the pipelines -- ExxonMobil and Shell -- are assuming the entire cost of clean-up and compensating individuals impacted by the spills.

"If you look at the actual facts, (the spills) actually strengthen our case. In both (spills), there was no contamination," Hoeven said. "These were very limited spills and the companies addressed them right away. The point is that we're talking about a state-of-the-art pipeline with safeguards to replace old infrastructure. The opponents are continuing to try to capitalize on perception and misinformation."

Hoeven isn't the only Peace Garden State political figurehead pushing hard for the approval of the project. On Friday, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., issued a statement indicating her continued support of Keystone XL.

"There is no question that our efforts to educate others and tirelessly advocate has improved the likelihood that this project will be approved," Heitkamp said through her office. "Myself and other senators from energy-producing states have continually touted the Keystone XL because it will reduce our dependence on Middle East oil and will create good-paying American jobs."

Hoeven said he has spoken with President Barack Obama several times in recent weeks and added he believes a decision on the Keystone XL could come this summer.

"If I had to guess, I think (Obama) will make his decision in August," Hoeven said. "He hasn't said specifically, but he has said it will be 'several months.'"

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, are opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, arguing that the tar sands oil from Alberta is more toxic than regular crude oil and that a spill is inevitable.

Well-known former NASA climate expert James Hansen has called the Keystone XL project a "game changer" in the fight against climate change.

Also this week, Hoeven met with Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer and Alberta Premier Alison Redford in Washington in an effort to advance Keystone XL.

Hoeven also said he received a call of thanks for his support from newly confirmed U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday and said he expects Jewell to take him up on his invitation to visit North Dakota so she can see firsthand the state's needs and the energy progress being made.

In March, Hoeven helped get a filibuster-proof majority to come out in favor of the project, garnering 62 yes votes.

"At this point, having the Senate on record as being in support of the project, I think (Obama) will approve it," Hoeven told The Press on Friday. "If he doesn't approve Keystone XL, however, I think we have the support now in Congress to push the measure that way."

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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.
(701) 456-1207
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