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Hoeven, Canadian ambassador Doer stress need for Keystone XL, energy independence

Canadian Ambassador to the United States Gary Doer talks about the Keystone XL pipeline with U.S. Sen. John Hoeven on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at the Ramkota Hotel in Bismarck. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service

BISMARCK – Canada’s ambassador to the United States joined U.S. Sen. John Hoeven here Wednesday in making a renewed push for the Keystone XL pipeline that awaits President Barack Obama’s approval, promoting it as key to achieving energy independence and security.

“When you look at the opportunity, it makes more sense to take oil from middle North America than rely on oil from the Middle East. We just think it’s a no-brainer,” Ambassador Gary Doer said during his keynote address at a trade and transportation summit put on by the Central North American Trade Corridor Association.

Hoeven, R-N.D., who during his 10 years as North Dakota’s governor worked closely with Doer when he was Manitoba’s premier, listed several reasons why he believes TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline will win approval this year – firstly that the U.S. State Department’s final Environmental Impact Statement found that the project will not have a significant environmental impact.

Doer said those who have opposed Keystone XL because of environmental concerns about the tar sands oil from western Canada argued that the oil would stay in the ground without the pipeline connecting Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. But instead oil sands output has increased and it’s moving to market by rail, which is more expensive and generates more greenhouse gases than pipelines, he said.

The State Department report issued Jan. 31 said denying the pipeline isn’t likely to slow the pace of Canadian oil sands development, though it did note that the Canadian crudes are generally more greenhouse gas-intensive than other heavy crudes they would replace in U.S. refineries.

Doer and Hoeven also highlighted the economic impact of the $5.4 billion project. The State Department estimates it would support 42,100 jobs during construction and about 50 jobs once the pipeline is operating. Obama has questioned the estimate.

“We believe it just makes sense to go ahead with this pipeline. We want the president to choose blue-collar workers over Hollywood celebrities,” Doer said.

The pipeline will have the initial capacity to transport up to 100,000 barrels of Bakken crude, and without it as many as 1,400 additional railcars carrying crude oil could pass through North Dakota and Minnesota daily, Hoeven said, citing the report.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also have called on the president to approve the pipeline.

Hoeven and Doer said they hope approval comes before this year’s construction season. If Obama doesn’t approve the project, Hoeven said senators are working on three pieces of legislation designed to overturn his decision – though he noted they would require 60 votes in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“If we can’t get it done before November, we will get it done after November,” he said.

With the international spotlight still shining on the conflict between the Ukraine and Russia, Hoeven and Doer also stressed the importance of a strong U.S.-Canada energy partnership. Working together, Hoeven said the countries can achieve energy independence within five years.

“And beyond that, we can become a juggernaut for our allies, because we’ll produce so much energy …  we can help out with situations like we face today in Europe,” said Hoeven, who recently returned from a Senate mission to Ukraine.

Hoeven and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., announced bipartisan proposals Wednesday calling on the Obama administration to expedite approval of more than 20 pending natural gas export applications as a way to counteract Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence over Ukraine and Europe, which depends on Russia for about one-third of its natural gas needs.

Doer said Canada wants to continue to work with the United States on sanctions and consequences for what he called the Russian invasion of Crimea, noting Canada has the third-largest Ukrainian population in the world.

“Putin is not going to have a six-year environmental impact study about whether to invade Crimea,” he said. “It’s a decisive situation which requires decisive action and strategy in our countries.”

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.