Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

March 22, 2012

Obama brings energy strategy to energy state; promises support for Keystone XL

Ricky O’Bannon
CNHI News Service

Cushing, OK — President Barack Obama said Thursday he will fast-track the southern portion of a pipeline from Cushing to Texas and consider a new permit proposal for a northern section of the line from Canada.

TransCanada, the company hoping to build the 36-inch Keystone XL pipeline, will submit a new plan that avoids the Nebraska Sandhills region. Following the president’s 11-minute speech at a TransCanada pipe yard outside Cushing, Keystone project Vice President Robert Jones said the company hopes to have the northern leg approved to construction on the northern leg by mid-2013.

Obama said Thursday he would be happy to review future applications.

“The fact is that my administration has approved dozens of new oil and gas pipelines over the last three years – including one from Canada,” he said. “And, as long as I’m president, we’re going to keep encouraging oil development and infrastructure and we’re going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people. We don’t have to choose between one or the other. We can do both.”

Obama was near Cushing, the self-proclaimed pipeline crossroads of the world, to tout his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy relying on a variety of power sources to meet the country’s needs.

Responsible increases in oil and gas production are part of the road to America’s energy independence, Obama told an invitation-only crowd, but it isn’t the only part. He said the country needs to pursue all forms of American-made energy.

“We don’t want to be vulnerable to something happening on the other side of the world,” Obama said. “That’s not the future I want for America. That’s not the future I want for our kids. I want us to control our own energy destiny. I want to determine our own course.

“That means producing more biofuels … more fuel efficient cars … more solar polar … more wind power ...” the president said.

“The key is to keep it going, Oklahoma,” Obama said. “If we’re going to end our dependence on foreign oil, if we’re going to bring gas prices down once and for all, as opposed to just playing politics with it every single year, then what we’re going to have to do is to develop every single source of energy that we’ve got, every new technology that can help us become more efficient.”

Obama spoke Thursday morning at a TransCanada pipe yard north of Ripley, which is storing pipe sections to be used in a portion of the Keystone XL pipeline that will connect oil reserves in Cushing to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The president’s visit brought out protesters with various causes. Included in the groups gathered in Cushing were members of the Americans for Prosperity who argued Obama was harming oil production, environmentalists concerned over the pipeline’s impact and members of Native American tribes who said construction of the southern pipeline will mean digging up tribal graves.

The Keystone XL pipeline originally was to connect Alberta, Canada through Cushing to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. In January, that project was denied a presidential permit, and the Obama administration cited a short timeline on the decision imposed by Congress. TransCanada split the project in two and said it would go ahead with the southern section of the 36-inch line, which does not require a presidential permit because it crosses no international border. 

Thursday, the president endorsed the line sending oil south from Cushing and issued an executive order for federal agencies to fast-track the project.

“Today, I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done,” Obama said.

Robert Jones, who is the vice president for the Keystone pipeline project for TransCanada, told reporters following the president’s remarks he was pleased to hear what Obama said. He said the company expected to start construction on the southern portion of the pipeline by mid-2012 and the southern pipeline will take a year to complete.

While the southern section does not require a presidential permit, Jones said the company has to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Obama’s directive to expedite the project would apply to those agencies.

Jones said TransCanada is working on a new route for the northern portion of the pipeline that avoids the Nebraska Sandhills region that was a source of environmental concern. The TransCanada representative said he hoped a permit would be issued and construction could start mid-2013 for the northern pipeline.

During Thursday’s press conference, Jones was asked if he would call the president a friend of the Keystone project.

“I think that’s what we heard,” he said.

Cushing representatives were happy to hear the president endorse the southern pipeline and speak positively of a northern pipeline given it’ss environmentally sound, but some were hoping he would have gone further.

“I would have loved for him to say he would have signed the presidential order for the pipeline from Canada to Cushing, but he gave us hope that that’s in the future,” said Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing.

Cushing Mayor Evert Rossiter echoed that sentiment, but both he and Denney said they were pleased with the visit to their hometown.

“It’s just an honor to have him here,” Rossiter said.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., were not on hand to welcome the president to Oklahoma but both criticized him from afar.

Inhofe called Obama’s visit “disingenuous on a number of levels.”

Fallin, who was out of state vacationing in Puerto Rico, issued a statement through her Oklahoma City office accusing the president of taking credit “for successes in oil and gas production that his administration has nothing to do with and, in many cases, continues to actively obstruct.”

Ricky O’Bannon writes for the Stillwater (Okla.) NewsPress.