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Former pipeline safety administrator discusses final review stage of Keystone XL project

With the discussion over the Keystone XL pipeline heating up in Washington, how will environmentalists' concerns weigh into the State Department's final decision? During today's OnPoint, Brigham McCown, a pipeline safety expert and a former acting administrator at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, discusses the final stage of the State Department's consideration of TransCanada's pipeline proposal. He also addresses safety concerns surrounding the pipeline.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Brigham McCown, a pipeline safety expert and a former acting administrator at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Brigham, thanks for coming on the show.

Brigham McCown: Thanks for inviting me to be here with you today.

Monica Trauzzi: With the discussion over the Keystone XL pipeline heating up here in Washington and around the country, how much inside politicking is happening here and how much of an actual substantive discussion on the economics and the environmental aspects of the pipeline are we seeing?

Brigham McCown: Right. I think you're seeing a little bit of both. There are a lot of different varied interests at play and they're coming together. With respect to the pipeline, really, I don't view this as so much about pipeline safety, as I do a greater discussion of fossil fuels and importing oil from the oil sands of Canada or the tar sands as the environmentalists would like to label it.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator Lindsey Graham has said the environmental community is trying to make oil sands product the new ANWR. This is misplaced. It will do a lot of damage to energy policy in the U.S. and we're not going to let it happen. Is the environmental community's pushback on the Keystone XL pipeline misplaced do you think?

Brigham McCown: Well, I think it really is, because the truth is they're trying to say that you can't have a pipeline going through a freshwater drinking supply, through the Ogallala Aquifer, known as the High Plains Aquifer. And the truth is we already have hundreds of pipelines crisscrossing that aquifer right now.

Monica Trauzzi: But pipeline safety has been such a critical issue over the last couple of years, so when we're talking about a pipeline of this nature, could we see things like leakage and seepage of the product into water supplies for example?

Brigham McCown: Well, like anything we do, there's no 100 percent probability that there will never be any kind of an incident. The good news is though that the technology has advanced so much over the years and that this is going to be a brand-new pipeline. In fact, I think it's safe to say that this is the most scrutinized pipeline project ever undertaken in the country. So from that perspective, if you couple that with the fact that pipelines are already the safest mode of transportation, I think there is very little, if anything, to be worried about.

Monica Trauzzi: Has the State Department done their due diligence on the environmental aspects of the pipeline?

Brigham McCown: I think they really have and one of the things that I think is a telltale sign is, you know, the current administration is no fan of big oil. And even when your own folks say that there is little to no adverse impact of having this pipeline, then I think that says a lot.

Monica Trauzzi: Environmentalists have brought in their four-year request for e-mails between lobbyists and the State Department.

Brigham McCown: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you sense that there is a bias at all from this State Department on this topic?

Brigham McCown: No, not at all. I don't think so at all and the way the EIS process works, there are so many people involved at many agencies, my old agency is involved in the EIS as well, there's just simply no way to have a predetermined outcome on a process this large.

Monica Trauzzi: But there are some folks who are lobbying for it who have very close relationships and close ties to Secretary Clinton. Is that a concern at all? I mean is that a red flag?

Brigham McCown: I don't think so. I mean there are a lot of-look, you know DC. There are a lot of people who know a lot of people in DC and I think that that has little to no impact. The real question for Secretary Clinton to look at is, is this pipeline in our national interest? And for lots of different reasons, not the least of which is economic security of buying oil from Canada as opposed to overseas countries, who, frankly, don't like us very much, you know, is also something that comes into play.

Monica Trauzzi: So a final decision is expected before 2012. What are the chief considerations that state will be making prior to that decision?

Brigham McCown: Well, the State Department right now, after they finish the public listening sessions here in Washington DC, will take a look at all the comments, both from the public, as well as the federal agencies. They'll go back and see if they need to make any modifications to the EIS as it's published and then their record of decision will come out. So, again, it's really based on the totality of factors. Is this pipeline in the U.S. national interest? And I think that answer is a clear yes.

Monica Trauzzi: And at this point, are all signs pointing to final approval?

Brigham McCown: Yes, I don't see anything that is going to stand in the way of ultimate approval.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we're going to end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Brigham McCown: Sure, thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]

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