Jul 08, 2014 - 3:00pm

A Montana Town’s Hopes Rest with Approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline

Senior Editor, Digital Content


A worker walks past pipe ready to be used to construct the Keystone XL pipeline. Photographer: Photographer: Scott Dalton/Bloomberg.
A worker walks past pipe ready to be used to construct the Keystone XL pipeline. Photographer: Photographer: Scott Dalton/Bloomberg.

"If there is no pipeline, there is no future. End of conversation.”

Denny Hogan of Circle, Montana told NBC News’ Tony Dokoupil the start reality of this small rural town.

The pipeline is the Keystone XL, which will transport oil sands crude from Alberta along with Bakken crude oil to Nebraska then on to Gulf Coast refineries.

Circle’s economy used to rely on agriculture, but times have changed:

Since the 1960s, Circle has lost half of its population to moving vans and the mortuary, and Main Street looks like it’s missing a few teeth. From certain angles and when the light is right, the four-block thoroughfare gives off that old, mellow glow. But more often it feels as desolate and lonely as the suburbs on a weekday afternoon. The movie theater is closed. The bowling alley has no lanes. In the center of town, the Gladstone Hotel is a 99-year-old historical landmark with weeds growing through the floor.

People in Circle and surrounding McCone County wait with the rest of us for President Obama to approve the pipeline. For them, the pipeline is more than oil traveling south below their feet. Jobs and tax revenue generated by the pipeline mean hope for the community:

About 1,500 of those would [be] pipeline-related, mostly in construction, and probably lasting only a year or two. But another 2,200 jobs are expected to grow from those, giving McCone County the equivalent of several years of paydays and clanging cash registers in a single dose.

It’s expected that McCone County will get $18 million annually in property taxes.

Judging by the experience of Oklahoma and Texas where the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline--the Gulf Coast Project--was built, rural towns like Circle should be optimistic. A report from Southern Methodist University's Maguire Energy Institute found that construction of the Gulf Coast Project resulted in

  • Over $5.7 billion in new economic activity.
  • Over 42,000 person years of new employment.
  • Over $217 million in additional state and local taxes.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy along with 43 associations sent a letter to Secretary John Kerry asking the State Department to finish its National Interest Determination (NID) process and approve the pipeline:

The Final Environmental Impact Statement released by the Department earlier this year found over 42,000 jobs would be created and $3.4 billion in additional revenue to GDP would result in the building of this project, yet we continue to wait. Our labor community continues to face a stubborn unemployment rate that by far outpaces the national average, yet we continue to wait. Over 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, support the building of this project and yet we continue to wait. The facts and benefits are clear; this project is in our national interest.

The letter goes on to state that the Obama administration’s latest excuse for delay, a Nebraska state court decision under appeal is just that, an excuse:

There is no reason for the president to delay issuing the cross-border permit due to a state appellate court proceeding. Keystone XL enjoys the support of the Nebraska governor and policymakers. Nebraska conducted a thorough route assessment. Furthermore, the State Department has found in all five environmental reviews that the project would not significantly impact the environment, including the various route options through Nebraska. The issue of our national interest will not be affected or changed by the outcome of the Nebraska decision.

It’s been over five years since Keystone XL’s first permit application. Out-of-work construction workers are waiting, manufacturers are waiting, young people are waiting, and communities are waiting. It’s been long enough. This is the most-studied pipeline in U.S. history. It’s time for the President to end the delays and approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Towns like Circle need to know where its future lies.

Follow Sean Hackbarth on Twitter at @seanhackbarth and the U.S. Chamber at @uschamber.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.