HELENA, Mont. - Montana's governor says the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta's oilsands to the Gulf Coast will eventually be built and he blames the delay on "jackasses" in Washington who have only recently discovered the issue.
"Blah, blah, blah, Washington, D.C., politics. If you want to get something a) not done and b) cussed and discussed, send it to Washington, D.C.," Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "It's going to get built.
"Ninety per cent of these jackasses that are complaining about the Keystone pipeline in Washington, D.C., one year ago wouldn't have even known where the Keystone was. While we were doing the heavy lifting here in Montana and in South Dakota and in Kansas and Oklahoma ... in Washington, D.C. ... all these great defenders had never heard of Keystone before."
The pipeline, which would extend the reach of an existing oil line that delivers crude to the U.S. Midwest, has become a major political flashpoint as U.S. President Barack Obama seeks re-election.
Backers of the TransCanada (TSX:TRP) project say it would create thousands of jobs and supplant crude imports from unfriendly countries. But it has also come under fire from critics who worry the pipeline would increase U.S. dependence on "dirty'' oilsands crude and cause ecological harm to the American heartland in the event of a spill.
In November, a decision on the project by the U.S. State Department was delayed until early 2013 - after presidential elections - to work out a new route through Nebraska. Then the Obama administration rejected a permit because Republican efforts to force a decision within 60 days did not allow enough time to study the new route. The president made it clear the decision was not based on the project's merits.
Schweitzer said Keystone runs through Montana more than it does any other state and would be a boon for oil producers. Oil activity in Montana and North Dakota has picked up, he said, but the oil has to be transported to its destinations by rail.
"Rail is not safe, it's not environmentally sound and it costs $20 to $30 a barrel more to get to market, so our producers are taking deep discounts because we don't have pipeline capacity and we've negotiated that with TransCanada."
Schweitzer said a lack of knowledge on Keystone isn't just at the Washington level. He related how a year ago Canada's ambassador to the U.S., Gary Doer, invited a few governors to his office to talk about the project, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
"Neither one of those two governors had even heard of it before. He had to start from scratch. I'm going to tell you something about Rick Perry," Schweitzer said with a laugh.
"He's got good hair ... every hair is just right. He's got these big expensive cufflinks and his boots have got these silver tips, and, boy, he's pretty, but he had never even heard of Keystone before. After we explained it to him, he said, well, there's no reason why we shouldn't be for that."
Schweitzer is so confident that the pipeline will go ahead, he's willing to put his money where his mouth is.
"It's coming through. I have $100 burning a hole in my pocket that I will bet you that it gets built," he said in his office in Helena, Mont.
"I'd say construction will start in 2013. Nebraska says in October or November they're going to get their deal done ... that gives the State Department a full 90 or 120 days to work on it.
"It's got to be built."
Copyright 2012 The Canadian Press. All Rights Reserved.
(Originally published February 23, 2012, in The Canadian Press.)