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Our View: Exxon spill should not spoil Keystone XL decision

With TransCanada's plans to build an international pipeline to bring Canada's heavy tar sands oil to Texas refineries under U.S. State Department review, now is not the best time for another pipeline to rupture -- not that there ever is a good time.

But the March 29 oil spill from the ExxonMobil Corp.-owned Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark., couldn't have occurred at a worse time for the as-yet-to-happen Keystone XL pipeline.

Keystone XL has been under the national microscope in the U.S. for years, as well it should be for a project that will push a highly corrosive material underneath our feet, but Exxon's spill should have little -- if any -- bearing on the Obama administration's decision to either allow the new pipeline's construction or to block it.

Why? Well, Exxon's 20-inch Pegasus pipeline connecting Nederland, Texas, to Patoka, Ill., is 65 years old. Putting Keystone XL under greater scrutiny because Pegasus popped is like double-checking a fuel-injected engine in a 2013 pickup because the carburetor on a 1948 pickup is running rich.

The technology to monitor pipelines for spills or potential problems has undoubtedly advanced leaps and bounds since yesteryear, and TransCanada has agreed to higher safety standards with U.S. regulators for Keystone XL. As reported in an Associated Press article published in The Dickinson Press on Wednesday, those measures include an increased number of shutoff valves, more inspections and burying the pipeline deeper underground.

To refresh your memory, the story also reported that there were 364 spills from pipelines releasing about 54,000 barrels of oil and refined products in 2012. But each year, about 11.9 billion barrels of oil, gas and other refined products are pushed through an extensive network of U.S. pipelines. That means the spills totaled about 0.0005 percent of the oil traveling through this nation's pipelines.

TransCanada has shown that it cares about U.S. concerns, even rerouting its multi-million dollar project to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sandhills region in Nebraska. With the Nebraska governor's blessing, Keystone XL has gone on to gain Senate support. Indeed, Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., have both offered their backing.

We believe that campaign is not misaligned with the interests of North Dakota or the nation. No one is kidding themselves that the potential for a Keystone XL spill won't be present if the pipeline is constructed, but we know from experience that having the pipeline will help reduce the chance of spills through other means of transportation. Do we really think semi trucks carrying oil won't crash? Or that rail cars full of oil won't derail?

We think the proper course of action for the State Department and the Obama administration is to scrutinize Keystone XL on its own and limit influence from infrastructure old enough to collect Social Security.

The Dickinson Press Editorial Board consists of Publisher Harvey Brock, Managing Editor Dustin Monke and News Editor Klark Byrd.