HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Land Board is preparing to sell easements to a Canadian company so that the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline can run through the state as it crosses some of Montana's most important rivers.
The board meets Monday to consider selling 50-year easements to TransCanada for $741,000. The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said it believes the up-front payment is fair market value for such a lease and similar to what private landholders are getting.
Critics say the board isn't doing enough to make sure the pipeline will be safe for the environment — and argue it shouldn't be built at all.
The easements will, in total, cross almost 40 state tracts of eastern Montana school trust land in Phillips, Valley, Fallon, McCone and Dawson counties.
The 36-inch oil pipeline still faces several much larger hurdles than the Montana Land Board, including court battles elsewhere and a pending request for the presidential approval needed for such a cross-border project.
Outgoing Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who helped negotiate an on-ramp sought by a Montana oil industry struggling with ways to get their product to market, chairs the land board. His natural resources department director, Mary Sexton, said the river-crossing details will be settled later — but promised they would be safe.
Sexton said that much has been done to ensure that new pipelines are "significantly better than in the past" and far safer than the one that ruptured last year in the Yellowstone River near Billings. One new precaution is to drill the pipeline as far as 40-feet deep in solid rock to remove the possibility that erosion in the riverbed can break it.