Vol. 19, No. 19 Week of May 11, 2014
Providing coverage of Bakken oil and gas

Senators try to fast track Keystone XL

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Hoeven and Landrieu building bipartisan support for legislation that would circumvent Obama administration decision on pipeline

Mike Ellerd

Petroleum News Bakken

The U.S. Senate is considering a bill introduced on May 1 by North Dakota Senator John Hoeven and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and supported by a non-partisan group of 54 other senators that would allow TransCanada to proceed with construction of the Keystone XL pipeline without Obama administration approval.

Senate Bill 2280 is a short, three page piece of legislation which simply states that “TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. may construct, connect, operate, and maintain the pipeline and cross border facilities described in the application files on May 4, 2012, by TransCanada Corporation to the Department of State (including any subsequent revision to the pipeline route within the State of Nebraska required or authorized by the State of Nebraska).”

While the bill lists 54 sponsors, Hoeven’s office said the bill has the support of 57 senators as of May 7, although that is three short of the 60 needed to pass the Senate. Landrieu, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, is trying to garner support from enough Democratic senators to get the bill through the Senate.

Four key issues

The bill addresses four key issues associated with the project. First, it considers all aspects of the environmental impact statement that was issued in January by the secretary of State to be fully satisfied. Second, all permits issued prior to the date of enactment of the bill would remain in effect. Third, any legal challenges to federal action regarding the pipeline will be limited to the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. And fourth, the bill, if passed and signed into law, would not alter any federal, state or local processes or conditions “necessary to secure access from an owner of private property to construct the pipeline and cross-border facilities.”

“The Keystone XL pipeline is a vital energy infrastructure project that the American people clearly favor,” Hoeven said in a May 1 press release. “Congress needs to make a decision because the administration has delayed making its decision indefinitely. Our legislation acknowledges the vital national interest this project represents on many levels.”

Landrieu said the project has been thoroughly reviewed and the time has come to move forward. “The five studies that have been conducted as required by law are complete,” she said in the May 1 press release. “It is time to stop studying and start building.”

Getting the bill to a vote

A looming question, however, is whether or not Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow a vote on the bill. As of late afternoon Eastern Time on May 7, a vote had not been scheduled and the future of the bill remained uncertain amid efforts to include the bill as an amendment to an energy efficiency bill commonly known as Shaheen-Portman bill in reference to its two primary sponsors Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. But even if the bill were to receive the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate, it is unclear if the bill could garnish the 67 votes necessary to override a possible presidential veto, although one senior Senate aide told Petroleum News Bakken that a veto was considered less likely were the bill included as an amendment to Shaheen-Portman.

SB 2280 is just the latest effort by Hoeven and Landrieu to get the Keystone XL project approved. Aside from a multitude of letters to the president supporting and urging approval of the project to which the two senators have been signatories, Hoeven and Landrieu have introduced or cosponsored numerous bills in the Senate promoting approval of the project, including a bill similar to the one now in the Senate hopper that failed in March 2013 but was only four votes short of the 60 necessary to get past a filibuster. In a largely symbolic vote, an amendment by Hoeven and backed by Landrieu approving the project, did pass the Senate with 62 yes votes in March 2013. And later in 2013 Hoeven and Landrieu introduced a joint resolution stating Congress believes that the Keystone XL is in the national interest.

TransCanada staying out

In a May 2 press conference, TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling was asked if his company might get involved with Hoeven’s and Landrieu’s bill. Girling said TransCanada will stay out of that process. “Our job isn’t to get involved in United States politics,” he said. “Obviously, as we’ve said before, we support all efforts to bring the Keystone XL approval process to conclusion.”

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