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Mr. Helms goes to Washington

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As the road to the Keystone XL pipeline's approval or rejection trudges on, North Dakota Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms visited Washington, D.C., this week in an effort to tout the pipeline and the advantages it would present the Peace Garden State.

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Testifying before two U.S. House of Representatives subcommittees in a joint hearing on Tuesday, Helms said western North Dakota would be a big benefactor in the final approval and completion of the much-debated oil pipeline that would run from Canada, through America's heartland to the Gulf Coast.

"North Dakota has a stake in this because it's home to the Bakken," Helms said. "In western North Dakota, Keystone XL would mean 300 to 500 less long-haul truck trips per day from oil and gas wells to rail stations in western North Dakota, which is how 71 percent of the oil produced in the state is transported."

Aside from the relief the pipeline would produce for stressed Oil Patch roadways, Helms told subcommittee members and onlookers that the project would actually be a benefit for the environment, the chief concern for the $7 billion pipeline's critics.

"Keystone XL, for every year that it's in service, will reduce North Dakota's greenhouse gas emissions by almost a million kilograms per day," Helms testified. "Transporting our oil by truck leads to three to four times the number of spills that a pipeline does, leads to dust problems and causes accidents."

Helms said, on the day the pipeline would open, it would begin transporting 60,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day, leading to a projected decrease in oil spills by several dozen per year and resulting in less traffic fatalities and injuries on state highways. Helms said the pipeline could transport as much as 100,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day in the future.

Energy giant TransCanada has been attempting to gain final approval for the last stretch of the Keystone XL project for years amid staunch opposition by environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and others. The final hurdle for the pipeline's completion is approval from the State Department and the White House.

Critics of the project argue harmful oil from what is referred to as the Canadian tar sands would be traveling through the pipeline, making it prone to spills and other mishaps.

Meanwhile, proponents tout added jobs and enhanced energy independence. Pipeline opponents also point to climate change concerns and decry a lack of safeguards to stop the oil transported to the Gulf Coast from being shipped off to the global market.

"Lynn was the star of the show," said North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, who serves on the Natural Resources and Science, Space and Technology Committees. "I'm in two energy subcommittees and North Dakota routinely gets mentioned a dozen to two dozen times every time we have a hearing. The reason is because everybody looks at us and says, 'How do they do it?'"

Also this week, TransCanada announced a delay in its expected completion date, pushing the potential opening of the full pipeline back to mid-2015, according to the company. On his Twitter account Tuesday, Cramer wrote: "Proud to have my friend Lynn Helms testify at hearing on Keystone XL. I promise not to go easy on him."

"Having folks like Lynn come to Washington actually helps to do something good for the country by showing how well we operate with these types of energy matters in North Dakota," Cramer said. "We'd prefer that the country emulate North Dakota instead of the rest of the country trying to make North Dakota emulate it. These federal agencies want to have one-size-fits-all solutions. A guy like Lynn really enhances the discussion."

The Republican said, at the end of the day, he expects the controversial pipeline to eventually be approved.

"It's hard to know because it's in the president's hands," Cramer said. "Frankly, I think the Keystone XL long ago went from the scientific scales to the political scales."

Cramer is a co-sponsor of the Northern Route Approval Act in Congress, which would allow TransCanada to build the Keystone XL on the merits of existing impact studies and without presidential approval. Cramer expects the Act -- which is likely to come to a vote in Congress later this month -- to pass the House, but could have trouble gaining approval in the Senate.

"I don't think that bill will see the light of day in the Senate," Cramer said. "But it, nonetheless, would keep pressure on the White House and the State Department because the American public supports the Keystone XL in a big way. This project should be built and should not require the President's signature."

In a statement emailed to The Press, Helms said the purpose of his visit to Washington was to provide real impact numbers as to what delaying the pipeline would do.

"Since the decision has been delayed, at least 300 more trucks are traveling North Dakota roads daily, further damaging our roads and endangering drivers," Helms said. "The opposition was there to speculate on global warming and possible spills."

Also this month, pipeline operator Enbridge announced that it shut down its 210,000-barrel-per-day North Dakota pipeline -- which runs in concert with U.S. Highway 2 in northern North Dakota -- after two separate spills, totaling about two barrels of oil, were detected in less than a week.

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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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