Hoeven Updates City, County Leaders on New Highway Bill, Keystone Pipeline, Regional Haze, USGS Bakken Study

BISMARCK, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today briefed city and county leaders on the progress of legislation and other issues important to North Dakota, including a new highway bill passed this week by the U.S. Senate, the Keystone XL pipeline project, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent regional haze ruling and a study underway by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to reassess petroleum reserves in western North Dakota.

Highway Transportation Bill Provides Record Funding for North Dakota

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill as passed by the Senate will provide North Dakota with $261.5 million in Fiscal Year 2012 and $266 million in Fiscal Year 2013 under the federal highway program. The state will also receive an additional $24 million over the two years for public transit programs, for a total of $551.5 million.

The funding comes on top of $317 million approved in December through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Emergency Relief Program, and will provide resources to address pressing infrastructure needs statewide in North Dakota, including roads and bridges in western North Dakota. In addition, the legislation makes changes to the Indian Reservation Roads Program formula, now called the Tribal Transportation Program, which will help protect North Dakota’s tribal road funding.

Congress has passed a number of short-term extensions for transportation programs since 2009, but the bill passed by the Senate Wednesday provides authorization through 2013 and greater funding certainty for states to plan larger projects. The U.S. House of Representatives must now work to pass a surface transportation measure.

The new bill is fully paid for and finds efficiencies, such as reducing the number of federal highway programs from about 90 to 30 and at the same time gives states additional flexibility to allocate funding where most needed.

“This legislation will provide the certainty needed for long-term infrastructure planning in North Dakota, while at the same time, protecting the state’s share of limited transportation dollars,” Hoeven said. “Combined with the $317 million we worked to secure through the DOT’s Emergency Relief Program, North Dakota will receive a combined record total of nearly $870 million over the next two years to address critical infrastructure needs across the state. It comes at a time when our economy is growing, and we need to address both flood impacts and infrastructure development in western North Dakota and across the state.”

Keystone XL Pipeline Project Has Momentum

Hoeven also updated leaders on the status of the Keystone XL pipeline project, which the senator said would be a big step toward achieving North American energy independence. It would reduce reliance on imported Middle East oil and help reduce the cost of fuel at the pump for consumers. It is also needed to help move oil production in North Dakota to U.S. refineries.

The Senator offered his legislation as an amendment to the highway bill that would have authorized Congress to approve the project under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Senator has strongly advocated for the building of this project, which will increase the North American oil supply of the United States by approximately 830,000 barrels a day, including 100,000 bpd from western North Dakota. If built, the Keystone XL pipeline would take up to 500 trucks a day off North Dakota roads, reducing impacts on infrastructure and making our highways safer.

Although the Hoeven amendment did not receive the 60 votes necessary for passage, a majority, 56 senators, voted in favor of the bill, including 11 Democrats. With the two additional Republican senators who were unable to vote that evening, Hoeven said the measure actually had the support of 58 senators, only two votes shy for passage. The bill has now been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and has 61 sponsors.

“Last week’s Senate vote showed real bipartisan support by a majority of senators for the Keystone XL project, which we will continue to push for based on its merits,” Hoeven said. “With a clear majority vote in the Senate, we believe the bill has momentum. Now, we will continue to work with the House and our colleagues in the Senate to see if we can approve it in conference committee on the highway bill or with other legislation.”

EPA Approves Majority of State Clean Air Plan

Following months of pushing by Hoeven, the congressional delegation and state leaders, the EPA agreed this month to adopt most of North Dakota’s State Implementation Plan (SIP) for reducing regional haze. The agency had previously proposed to overrule the state’s plan and mandate that North Dakota industry spend hundreds of millions of dollars on technology that the North Dakota Department of Health determined is technically infeasible and would result in visibility differences unnoticeable to the human eye.

“The EPA’s decision is very good news for our state and a step in the right direction,” said Hoeven. “We’ll continue working with the agency to ensure that the remainder of our state’s clean air plan is approved in a timely manner. North Dakota does a good job managing our resources and protecting our environment in a common-sense way.”

The EPA’s decision does the following:

  • Approves the SIP for Minnkota Power Cooperative’s Milton R. Young Station and Basin Electric’s Leland Olds Plant.
  • Requires additional control technology for Basin's Antelope Valley Station, which the state had earlier proposed but the EPA had previously rejected. If Basin Electric agrees to the suggestion, Antelope Valley Station will also be under the SIP.
  • While additional data is being collected and reviewed by the state and the EPA, Great River Energy’s Coal Creek Station will be subject to a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). However, the EPA committed to an expedited review of the revised data, and Hoeven and the congressional delegation are hopeful it will also be included under the state plan when that new information is received.

U.S. Geological Survey Bakken Study Moving Forward

Hoeven spoke Wednesday with Marcia McNutt, Director of the USGS, and Brenda Pierce, Coordinator for USGS’s Energy Resources Program, for an update on the new survey to determine the level of recoverable reserves in the Williston Basin.

The Senator asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this summer to have the agency conduct the new review because state and industry officials believe there are more undiscovered but technically recoverable reserves in the basin than detected in the last study, which was completed in 2008. That study reported recoverable reserves of approximately 3.65 billion barrels.

Pierce and McNutt said they are receiving significant new data from the industry and the State Geological Survey, and a team will be in North Dakota soon to collect core samples. The USGS started the study in October and expect it to be completed by the fall of 2013.

“The USGS is working to update the estimates of recoverable oil in the Bakken,” said Hoeven. “This revised study is important, because I believe it will show a substantially higher level of recoverable oil reserves, and that will help attract millions in private investments to build housing, hotels and other essential infrastructure in western North Dakota.”