Miles Traveled: 1168
York feels like small town America. A water tower in the shape of a hot air balloon greets you as you leave I-80 and enter town. When you walk along its downtown, local residents smile and say, “hi.” You can see and feel the town's can-do attitude.
It’s also one of the counties that is losing out on economic opportunities from the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline.
The State Department estimates that York County will get $932,000 in local tax revenue from the first year of the Keystone XL pipeline’s operation. How could this community invest that money?
For an idea, the Platte Institute, a Nebraska public policy think tank, looked at when the first Keystone pipeline was built in 2010, and how it benefited Nebraska counties:
Saline County’s valuation of the pipeline amounted to $16.7 million, helping the Dorchester school district generate funds for repaying the $4 million bond issue passed in 2008 to construct a new school in the district. Dorchester School Superintendent Mitch Kubricek noted that the increased revenue from the pipeline could allow for property tax levies to be lowered.
The report continued:
David Mach, chairman of the Butler County Board of Supervisors, was so pleased with the impact from the first pipeline that he said the county would be willing to have a second pipeline built in their county.
York County won’t be alone in benefiting from the Keystone XL pipeline. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss estimated that “the twelve counties in KXL’s path will see substantial increases in tax receipts during the construction and operation of the pipeline.”
But that won’t happen until the administration ends its six-year delay and approves the Keystone XL pipeline.
Miles traveled: 896.
After Buffalo, we traveled to Rapid City to chat with local supporters. After going to see Mount Rushmore—it was breathtaking—we drove to Murdo, South Dakota, home town of Senator John Thune (R-SD) and spent the night. The next morning after a hearty breakfast—pancakes, eggs, and bacon for me—with local pipeline supporters, we drove to Winner.
Winner is a South Dakota town of 3,000 and is popular with pheasant hunters from all over the country who visit every fall.Welcome to Winner, South Dakota
Over a lunch of hamburgers and sandwiches, local business leaders and community officials told us about the lost opportunities for economic development in their area because of the pipeline’s delay.
According to John Meyer, owner of Office Products Center, the Keystone XL pipeline “would be a good economic shot in the arm” for Winner. “So many times we are bypassed due to no interstate, not enough power, no natural gas, employee base, and so on.”
He explained that the pipeline’s pump stations will need a lot of electricity, and transmission lines will be brought in to accommodate that demand. Those lines will let Winner market itself to other industries that also rely on them . The area will be able to “add wind farms now that we have the transmission line” Meyer said, “increasing the property tax base and creating permanent jobs.”Lunch with Keystone XL supporters in Winner, South Dakota.Lunch with Keystone XL supporters in Winner, South Dakota.
In 2012, Meyer testified about the pipeline before the Senate for the U.S. Chamber about the pipeline.
Federal government estimates that Winner and Tripp County will see $3.4 million in new property tax revenue in the first year of the pipeline’s operation.
“On a local level, what could a million dollars do for our county, schools, library, etc.? On a state level, what could it do for improvements, teachers’ pay?” Meyer asked
Another lost opportunity from the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline has hit farmers who are finding it difficult to ship their grain.
Tom Kauer, president of the South Central Development Corporation, told us that as more Canadian oil travels by rail, less grain can be moved. “Millions of bushels are sitting on the ground,” he said.
What's more, without the Keystone XL pipeline, there are plans to put more Canadian oil on trains. “We don’t have the rail for more trains,” worries Winner Mayor Jess Keesis.
As you can see, people in Winner know what opportunities for economic development have been lost by the pipeline’s six-year delay. But they remain optimistic.
How couldn’t you in a place called, “Winner?”
Miles traveled: 560
9:00 am (Sep. 16)
I’m standing in a pasture. The grass around me is greener than it usually is because Buffalo has already gotten three-times the amount of rain they usually get.
Earlier, we stopped at the #3 Saloon to meet Jim Doolittle and his wife Karen Wagner, owners of the Doolittle/Wagner Ranch.
Their 13,000-acre ranch is considered to be “average size” by South Dakota standards, according to Jim. I’m used to Wisconsin dairy farms that have only a few hundred acres and 60 dairy cows. Karen tells me the ranch has been in their family for about 100 years.
We met Jim and Karen, because the Keystone XL pipeline will run for three miles across their ranch on its way to Nebraska. These landowners understand that energy infrastructure can coexist with responsible land management.
After getting some background about the ranch, we hopped into trucks, drove a few miles out of town, and passed through an open gate into the pasture I’m standing in.
To my left is a fenced in area. It looks like a pen for cattle but instead of animals, it will hold pipe and construction material for the pipeline. Beyond the pen is a grass-covered ridge going down to a river below. Some cattle are grazing there.Panorama of the Doolittle/Wagner Ranch near Buffalo, South Dakota.The Doolittle/Wagner Ranch near Buffalo, South Dakota.
Jim tells us that the Keystone XL pipeline will be a “big significant increase from a tax standpoint.” It’s expected that Buffalo and Harding County will get $3.9 million in property tax revenue in the first full year of the Keystone XL’s operation, a 145% increase. But because of the delay, the local community is missing out on using the tax revenue for a new athletic facilities and other school improvements.
It will also have a “big permanent impact as well,” Jim adds. To power the pump houses that will push the oil along, new electricity facilities will have to be built. Jim explains that permanent jobs will be created to maintain those facilities.
Wooden marker where the Keystone XL pipeline will travel through the Doolittle/Wagner Ranch.
To the pipeline’s critics, Jim noted, “Pipelines aren’t a new concept.” Americans have lived for decades with thousands of miles of pipelines below their feet.
Then Jim walks us a few hundred feet away from the future pipe lot to a small wooden marker, about two-feet tall. Its cracked surface was once painted bright pink. Now, it’s weathered brown and grey. [See the top photo.] A few years ago, TransCanada drove that marker into the ground showing where the center of the pipeline will pass.
I look to the north to the U.S.-Canada border where I was on Monday. The Keystone XL pipeline will travel past a small windmill on a hill in the distance, go under the river, up a bank, across the pasture, then under a road on it’s way south. I stand in front of that wooden stick and realize, the pipeline will pass below my feet.
For Jim and Karen, the lost opportunities from the Keystone XL pipeline’s delay are the missing local tax revenue, permanent jobs that would be created, and reduced energy security.
7:00 am (Sep. 16)
Miles traveled: 520
Instead of going straight into South Dakota, this morning we took a detour into North Dakota. We wanted to see what 220 miles of pipe looked like in one place.
In a field near Gascoyne, ND sits a field of steel pipe. It’s about one-quarter of all the pipe needed to build the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Once the pipeline is approved, this pipe will be divided among 26 pipe yards, about 30 miles apart along the pipeline’s route.
I wrote about this place a year ago, and now I saw it. It was both impressive and disappointing.
Impressive, because it's miles and miles of pipe stacked on top of each other.
Disappointing becasue these stacks of North American steel have been sitting in this spot for 3.5 years.
Talk about a lost opportunity.
These photos don't do justice to how much pipe is here. It goes on for acres.Steel pipe for the Keystone XL pipeline piled near Gascoyne, North Dakota.
Steel pipe for the Keystone XL pipeline piled near Gascoyne, North Dakota. Steel pipe for the Keystone XL pipeline piled near Gascoyne, North Dakota. Steel pipe for the Keystone XL pipeline piled near Gascoyne, North Dakota.
Miles Traveled: 327
3:00 p.m. (Sep. 15)
Like Glasgow, Glendive is a Montana town where the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad runs directly through the center of town. It also happens to love dinosaurs. Dinosaurs large and small pop up all over downtown.Dinosaur sign in Glendive, Montana
Glasgow and the surrounding Dawson County are waiting for a significant bump in their local tax revenue from the Keystone XL pipeline.
The county will see $5.1 million in property taxes in the first full year of the pipeline’s operation according to State Department estimates, but it could be even more. Dawson County Commissioner Jim Skillestad told Mediatrackers, “The lowest figure I’ve seen is from $9 million per year up to $16 million per year in direct payments to Dawson County for 25 years.” He went on to say that with the money, the county could repair county roads, help pay for a new sewage treatment plant, and reduce taxpayers’ taxes.
But none of that will happen if the Obama administration continues to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Local businesses are also losing out on opportunities because of the pipeline's delay. However, Hedahls Auto Plus has bucked the trend and is an example of how a local business has thrived because of energy development. The company has been able to expand its number of stores in the oil-rich Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota. One store of their older stores is in Glendive. Other local businesses would have a chance to prosper if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved and thousands of new jobs are created in Montana.Hedahls Auto Plus in Glendive, Montana
While the lost economic opportunities from the pipeline stare us dead in the face, we can’t forget the lost energy security benefits because of the pipeline’s delay. Hedahls Auto Plus CEO Dick Hedahls didn’t. He said in a statement:
The Keystone XL pipeline will be a nice boost for the economy in our region with new jobs and additional business for local businesses. But the big benefit will give the USA a North American source of energy. Americans need to get our energy from people who don’t hate us.
Local improvements, economic growth, and improved energy security have all been put on hold with the delay of the pipeline.
Next stop: Baker, MT.
Miles Traveled: 431
7:00 p.m. (Sep. 15)
As we drove on I-94 leaving Glendive, jagged rock formations bid us goodbye. About an hour later as the sun was making its way to the horizon, oil pumps greeted us. We arrived in the Bakken.Sean Hackbarth standing in front of oil pumps near Baker, Montana.Sean Hackbarth standing in front of oil pumps near Baker, Montana.
The Bakken shale formation run under eastern Montana and western North Dakota and has been one of America’s energy success stories. Bakken oil has helped reduce American petroleum imports to its lowest level in 28 years.
At Baker, the Keystone XL pipeline becomes a North American energy story. Because at the planned Marketlink in Baker, the Keystone XL pipeline will pick up Bakken crude for transport south.
Infrastructure has already been built so pipeline construction can get underway once it’s approved. TransCanada built a water tower and spent $800,000 for water and sewer lines for camps for construction workers near Baker. Those infrastructure improvements could be used for future residential development long after the Keystone XL pipeline has been finished.
However for Baker, the Keystone XL pipeline is much more than new construction jobs in the area.
Mona Madler, executive director of the Southeast Montana Area Revitalization Team (SMART) told me that the “Marketlink will be a huge asset.” Not only will it increase the tax base, but it will turn Baker into a regional energy hub that could include a refinery, a power plant fueled by natural gas, and by building plants to capture carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery.
Baker residents have lived and thrived with oil for decades. I asked Madler what she’d say to Keystone XL pipeline opponents. “They don’t know the whole story,” she answered. Canadian oilsands have been imported into the United States for decades. Some of it might have become the gasoline in opponents’ gas tanks.
Madler mentioned another lost opportunity because of the Keystone XL pipeline delays. Because the pipeline isn’t available, 100,000 barrels of Bakken oil that would go into the pipeline has to be moved by rail. This has decreased capacity has meant that farmers can’t use rail to move their grain to market. As a result, farmers are “dumping grain on the ground,” Madler said. Food is rotting in the fields because the Keystone XL pipeline continues to be delayed.
Baker may be doing well economically because of Bakken oil. However, it’s still losing opportunities for more economic growth and development because of the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline.
In one day we traveled from the U.S.-Canada boarder and are about to leave Montana. That’s a lot of driving.
Next stop: South Dakota.