Keystone XL pipeline fails in Senate

The Senate on Tuesday failed to approve legislation to permit construction of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

The bill fell one vote shy of the 60 needed for approval in the Senate, 59-41. The House last week passed the bill 252-161. It was supported by the entire Arkansas delegation.

The pipeline would carry up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was first proposed in 2008 but has yet to clear permitting reviews by the U.S. Department of State. The State Department does not plan to approve it until a Nebraska court rules on the proposed pipeline route through that state.

After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would bring the Keystone issue back to the Senate floor “very early” in the next session when the GOP holds the majority.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., spoke on the floor Tuesday, saying that for him it was a “no brainer” to support the construction of the pipeline.

“Keystone is a job creator. It will bolster the economy,” he said.

Arkansas lawmakers have uniformly backed the pipeline, pointing to the economic benefit it would have in Little Rock, where Welspun Tubular is storing 350 miles of steel pipeline for the project. Welspun is one of the manufacturers tapped by TransCanada to build the 36-inch-diameter steel pipe needed to complete the 1,100 miles of pipeline.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said in an interview Tuesday he favored the pipeline and is confident that it can be constructed to minimize environmental concerns.

“It is going to get used, so you have to transport it somehow,” he said. “Rail cars or trucks or rivers, all those things could have an accident. Pipelines are the safest and cheapest way to transport fuels, in this case crude oil.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a major opponent of the pipeline, argued that the tar sand oil is particularly dangerous and difficult to clean up—as she said has been shown in places like Mayflower, Arkansas. On March 29, 2013, about 5,000 barrels of heavy crude from the Athabasca oil sands spilled from a leaking pipeline northwest of Little Rock, putting nearly two dozen families out of their homes.

“This came right into residential communities,” Boxer said. “Dirty filthy oil and the toughest to clean up in case of a spill. And, we know as sure as I’m standing here, if this is built there will be a spill because that happens. And, it has already happened.”

Asked later about Mayflower, Pryor said the community had gone through a “terrible hardship” but again he said that pipelines are safer than other transportation methods for oil.

“Obviously, you have got to build to standards and maintain it,” he said.

Boozman said the Keystone pipeline is using “the newest technologies and safest equipment” to make certain the oil is transported reliably.

“This underground method is a much safer option than transporting by train and truck,” he said.

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