Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SD Dem Congressional Candidates Will Regret Their Opposition To Keystone XL

     South Dakota Democrats running for Congress have reason to worry about the Keystone XL issue, which in many voting districts will probably come front and center as November approaches.  (First off, a disclaimer:  I own commercial property that's close enough to the proposed route through South Dakota to gain something from the pipeline's construction.  The gain is marginal and limited in time to the construction phase--but gain it is.  Go ahead and attack me and my motives if you wish, but you'll be wasting your time. The issues I raise here are much bigger than my pipsqueakish interest in Keystone XL.) Yesterday's New York Times had a long piece about grain shipments being delayed in the Dakotas by a shortage of railroad cars created by the demands of oil production.  They're even screaming about this in Canada.  Meantime, my local contacts who raise winter wheat out here in western SD tell me that their recent harvest is piling up and can't get out of the area because of the rail shortage.  The political problem for Dems?  By November most of the state's row crops, principally corn and soybeans, will have been harvested and will join their sister harvest of wheat in stockpiles that can't be reduced.
    So why should Corinna Robinson (running for the state's lone congressional seat) and Rick Weiland (running for the U.S. Senate) be concerned?  Because just about everywhere I turn the blame for this backlog aims squarely at the opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline.  All of the interests I've contacted are convinced that KXL would alleviate the shortage of rail that's choking their businesses now.  I know that my good friend Cory Heidelberger, who runs South Dakota's best political blog (and I'm not just saying that) The Madville Times thinks this argument is specious, but on this one I think he's wrong.  Keystone XL opponents correctly note that most of the crude coming out of North Dakota will be shipped by rail even after Keystone XL, which is designed to move Canadian, not American crude, is built.  What that argument ignores is that the huge amount of rail traffic committed to moving Canadian oil now will be freed up because Canadian Pacific won't have to concentrate so many of its resources on the Canadian oil patch.  CP has a big presence in the United States. It can quickly divert its assets here, and will probably need to do so once those rail cars in Canada become superfluous.
     I had a brief meeting with Rick Weiland a few days ago and raised the issue with him.  His response to farmers' concerns?  "That's not true."  I didn't pursue the issue but pointed out that perception is what matters at this point--and I stand by that observation.  Robinson has a similar problem with this, mainly because her opposition to Keystone XL deals with issues that are not central to concerns of ag interests right now.  Both Weiland and Robinson will have a lot of trouble this Fall, when crops come in, convincing South Dakota farmers that their business needs are subordinate to larger national concerns, which may or may not have merit, depending on whose party line you favor.  That both candidates have effectively drawn a line in the sand on Keystone XL will deny them any political wiggle room--and will cost them, plenty.


  1. If companies would start offering annual payments on these perpetual easements a lot of landowner opposition would dissipate. One time payments on perpetual easements has got to go away....

  2. There has ALWAYS been a problem with rail traffic and getting the grain to market. This is not the first time and it won't be the last time. The problem is the railroads have chosen which cars they want to haul and sometimes the ones we need for food are set aside for the payola of the oil companies that are supported by government welfare.

  3. I'm thinking that if there were a bit more competition in the railroad industry, there wouldn't be such a 'shortage' of cars.

  4. "Both Weiland and Robinson will have a lot of trouble this Fall, when crops come in, convincing South Dakota farmers that their business needs are subordinate to larger national concerns." Mayhap, but at the end of the day which do you want on your conscience, losing an election because some people are penny wise, or contributing to the pollution of the Ogallala Aquifer and the concomitant destruction of thousands of acres of crop land? Pipelines leak and no one has as yet developed a process to restore the land after a tar sands spill, because the companies won't reveal what additives are involved in making it amenable to pipeline use.

  5. For reasons inexplicable I was not able to access my Goggle Account. I am Jerry K. Sweeney, Brookings, SD, and I posted a comment as to how a person might want to be remembered when it came to Keystone XL.

    1. Not sure why your earlier comment wouldn't post, Mr. Sweeney. This one seems to have gotten through okay. Feel free to retry. John

  6. I just read that ND has made a deal to ship their grain West, where Bakken oil doesn't go. It will go to Asian markets. No car shortage, contrived or otherwise, going that way. I thought I read that in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but I can't find it online now.

    I'm curious about your opinion on this John. Do you think it's feasible for SD?

  7. Not sure, Deb. Haven't heard anything about it in South Dakota. All I'm hearing is that grain is piling up all over the state.

  8. John just came back last week for an Amtrak trip from Fargo to Portland then to Seattle and then back to Fargo. On the bus trip back from Fargo, for the first time in my memory, I saw wheat piled up on the ground by elevators. So to that point your assumption is correct.

    But there is another issue, which no one wants to address. Warren Buffet, the owner of both BNSF and Canadien Pacific RRs has bought ten thousand railcars, most if not all are for oil transport. We saw hundreds of them brand new waiting to be loaded and so new that their serial numbers were consecutive on the track. Trains sit in wait for a free track to be able to keep moving their payloads and free them up for the next shipment. The cause of all this? Infrastructure. New track lines are being laid, but at a snails pace, the same pace at which highway repair is done in our State.

    It is time for the federal government and state governments who have a stake in this rail shortage to pony up and repair and upgrade the infrastructure for 2010 not back when diesel was 50 cents a gallon and we could afford to ship by truck.