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Heitkamp tours Canadian tar sands oil development

Heidi Heitkamp

Following a three-day visit this week to the Alberta, Canada, oil sands, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said it's more important than ever to gain final approval for the Keystone XL pipeline.

"It was essential to go to Canada so that I could get a first-hand view of the work being done in the oil sands," said Heitkamp on Friday. "It was important to talk to the folks who are going to be managing the Keystone XL pipeline when it's built and to have a chance to visit with the Canadian government about strategies and what we can do to work together to get the pipeline built."

Meeting with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer and TransCanada officials, among others, Heitkamp noted similarities between Alberta and North Dakota, both energy hotbeds in their respected countries.

"The U.S. and North Dakota in particular, have a special relationship with Canada," Heitkamp said. "Working together, Canada and states like North Dakota will help us become North American energy independent. The people that I talked to, most of them, don't understand why the (Keystone XL) has gotten so much attention. It's a pipeline that would be used as a means to transport hydrocarbon and doesn't add to the carbon footprint."

Heitkamp said she believes the pipeline -- which still needs State Department approval -- will eventually get the green light.

"We had some pretty extensive political-type discussions about the challenges before us," Heitkamp said. "But I think at this point, everybody is optimistic because the environmental assessment said there was no environmental impact. People are still concerned about how that might be perceived by the State Department, but people are optimistic."

Heitkamp said she toured Alberta oil sands operations that employed both traditional mining and "in situ" (an extraction technique that uses steam to free bitumen below the Earth's surface) methods and discussed similarities and differences with how oil is recovered in the Bakken.

"To her credit, (Redford) wanted to talk a lot about some of the challenges that we have had here in North Dakota," Heitkamp said. "We talked about things like housing and infrastructure and I think they face even bigger challenges than we do here in North Dakota because of how remote the oil sands locations are. They're in a boom cycle just like we are."

Saying those opposing the development of the Alberta oil sands for environmental reasons should take a trip north to view some of the environmental safeguards in place like she did, Heitkamp generally downplayed those concerns.

"They have been mining the oil sands for many, many years," Heitkamp said. "I looked at reclamation and the commitment they're making to reclamation. They're also making a big commitment to recycling their water. About 80 percent of that development is going to be in situ -- it looks a lot like the Bakken with a pad with a lot of different wells. They're using appropriate methods to extract the oil in Alberta."

Making her first trip ever to Alberta and marking her first visit to Canada as North Dakota's junior senator, Heitkamp said America's neighbor to the north is, and will continue to be, an important partner on energy matters.

"If the choice is buying oil from Venezuela or Iran or Saudi Arabia, or buying oil from Canada, I know what choice most Americans would make," Heitkamp said. "When I look at energy independence and what's achievable in the next decade-and-a-half, I think we can clearly become energy independent in North America. A lot of that oil is going to come out of Canada and a lot of that oil will be from Alberta. Building the relationship between North Dakota and Alberta is, I think, critical."

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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