HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana on Monday approved easements to let the Keystone XL pipeline cross state-owned land, including the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.
The Land Board chaired by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, running his last meeting before leaving office, sold the package of 50-year easements to TransCanada for $741,000. The board also finalized approval for land leases for the completion of the Montana-Alberta Tie Line.
But it was the lease for the oil pipeline that brought out some critics, who argued the board isn't doing enough to make sure the pipeline will be safe for the environment. They pointed to last year's oil spill on the Yellowstone, caused when a pipeline ruptured, of the danger posed when rivers are crossed. Opponents also argued it shouldn't be built at all due to global warming concerns from oil production.
The Northern Plains Resource Council, representing some eastern Montana ranchers and landowners affected by the pipeline, wrote a letter to the board advising it that the river crossing points are particularly dangerous.
Jim Jensen, executive of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said the board should at least postpone a decision on the portions of the lease package that cross the major rivers. He said there should be no rush since it is conditioned on receiving presidential approval, a process that has been bogged down in Washington, D.C., politics.
Jensen said the tar sands product is very different from normal crude oil, and its potential impact on aquatic environments is untested. He said the Land board also has an obligation to review the global warming impacts of developing the Canadian oil fields.
"I don't believe it is responsible for the Land board to make this decision before it has all the information in front of it," he said.