Montana’s Northern Plains leads lawsuit against Keystone XL

A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp’s planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, North Dakota, January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Northern Plains Resource Council this week filed a lawsuit in District Court challenging President Donald Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Northern Plains, a Montana-based conservation and family agriculture group, is challenging the permit based on the outdated and incomplete information it says was used to determine the project’s threat to water quality and community health.

The suit was filed in Great Falls by a coalition of environmental groups with Northern Plains serving as the lead plaintiff.

“As Montanans, we understand the importance of water,” said Kate French, chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council. “We depend on our rivers and our groundwater for drinking, for irrigation, and for our biggest economies. A threat to our water is a threat to our most basic needs.”

The project was first proposed by the TransCanada Corp. in 2008 to transport hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil from the Canadian tar sands to Texas. After a series of studies, protests and legislative actions, then-President Barack Obama rejected the project.

But that decision was overturned by Trump, who approved the project based on a 2014 environmental impact statement. The administration signed the permit last week.

“President Trump was wrong to approve Keystone XL,” said French. “That’s why, along with a coalition of other organizations, we filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s issuance of Keystone XL’s presidential permit.”

The pipeline’s route has emerged as a leading concern for eastern Montana land owners and environmentalists. The project will cross both the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, as well as the Ogallala aquifer, which provides drinking water to millions of Midwestern residents.

Several Montana landowners also oppose the project, including Wolf Point rancher Darrell Garoutte and irrigation farmer Dena Hoff, who ranches on the Yellowstone River near Glendive.

Hoff said the pipeline will cross below the Yellowstone 13 miles upstream from his farm. He noted the 2015 pipeline break that spilled 30,000 gallons of oil into the river.

“The pipeline that Keystone is planning for the Yellowstone is three times the size,” said Hoff. “I’ve seen what a 12-inch pipeline break does and I really don’t ever want to see the results of a break in a 36-inch pipeline. It’s just a disaster waiting to happen.”

Since 2014 when the environmental study cited by Trump was conducted, French said a number of pipeline spills, including two on the Yellowstone River, have punctuated the danger that tar sands oil poses to Montana water quality.

Coupled with concerns over climate change, French said the risks outweigh the rewards.

“Even TransCanada – Keystone XL’s parent company – estimates Keystone XL will have 11 significant spills over its lifetime,” French said. “Clearly, we’re facing a serious situation – one that cannot be taken lightly.”