The Montana Land Board has voted to grant easements for the Keystone XL pipeline.
These leases would allow the company Trans-Canada to build their pipeline through property owned by the state of Montana as long as the project passes environmental review.
The controversial proposed pipeline still has a long process ahead of it before construction can begin.
The last action item of Governor Brian Schweitzer’s last meeting with the Montana Land Board was an item of national interest on Monday–granting nearly 40 land easements to the Keystone XL Pipeline.
TransCanada needs these easements to cross the Keystone Pipeline through parcels of state land as it makes its way south. The controversial pipeline would run from oil sands in northeastern Alberta, Canada all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.
Supporters say the project would help the US toward its goal of North American energy independence and also say it would create jobs.
Opponents fault the environmental impacts from Keystone. Several of those critics made their opinions known to the Land Board. College student Colton Hash pointed out extracting oil from the Canadian tar sands results in the release of more greenhouse gas emissions than more conventional measures.
“The impacts from climate change we should be taking very seriously especially in relation to Montana’s agriculture and Montana’s wildfires,” Hash said.
“We are not dealing with your everyday crude oil in this pipeline,” said Executive Director of the Montana Environmental Information Center.
The tar extracted from the sands in Canada needs to be mixed with chemicals in order to produce a type of synthetic crude oil. Jensen says this mixture has not been properly tested for its impacts on aquatic environments, and the 36 inch wide keystone pipeline would cross under several Montana rivers.
TransCanada says it has agreed to bury the pipeline 40 feet beneath the bed of major Montana rivers.
Governor Schweitzer says those with environmental concerns are coming to the wrong place in making these arguments.
“Asking the Land Board to assess the environmental capabilities of any particular case would be like going to an auto mechanic and asking him to fix your jet,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer says the Land Board simply votes whether or not to grant leases or easements for these types of projects.
A company like TransCanada cannot move forward with their project unless it passes the permitting process at the Department of Environmental Quality. Keystone has passed this permitting from DEQ.
It’s just another step in a long process for the pipeline.
The project faces court battles in other states. Keystone also needs Presidential approval for crossing international borders.
Montana gets paid once this Presidential permit is granted.
The Land Board sold the 50-year easements to TransCanada for over $740 thousand dollars. The money would go to Montana schools.