President Joe Biden signed an executive decree one year ago that killed the Keystone XL Pipeline. A small South Dakota town is still reeling from the consequences of this decision.
Jeff Birkeland, CEO of West Central Electric Cooperative said that “we are the collateral damage.” He took our one chance to have some growth and lower our rates for members.
January 21, 2021 executive order was signed by President Biden to revoke the building permit for Keystone XL’s 1,200-mile project. This would have allowed oil to travel through Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Biden ended the multibillion-dollar project due to concerns about the potential climate impacts.
Fox News reported that construction was stopped within a week and workers lost their jobs. Families fled the small towns located along the pipeline’s route.
Canadian-based TC Energy approached West Central to supply power for two pumps stations on the Keystone XL Pipeline in 2008. West Central, an energy cooperative with 3,700 members, was one of three South Dakota electric co-ops working on substations.
According to Fox, West Central had spent $9 million on the construction of the two substations. Biden stopped the project after the energy CEO said so.
Birkeland stated, “All this money-gone.” All this material was made for a specific project, designed and engineered. Now it’s worthless. It’s salvage value.
Birkeland stated that the pipeline was located in Philip, which has a population 779. The pipeline would have provided opportunities for the small community in all shapes and forms.
Keystone cancellation still a problem in small-town South Dakota
“We saw it a boon for our community,” Duane Adair, caretaker and manager of the Motel West in the town, said to Fox News.
Adair stated that the project brought in security guards to supervise construction and other temporary workers.
Adair said that 20 rooms are sufficient for a small area like ours. He also noted that Adair lives in the motel. “Half my house is full with good people and I’m making a lot of money when one signature changed an entire economic advantage for our community- that’s gone.”
Residents invested in rental properties hoping to attract more long-term tenants. Birkeland and other Philip residents told Fox News that business owners borrowed money to expand their operations.
Birkeland stated, “It was absolutely devastating to us, our members, and the local businesses here, and individuals who had planned to do this,” Birkeland estimates that the pump stations brought West Central $18 million annually over the 20-year contract. This would double their annual revenue.
The tax the company pays on its electric distribution is paid into the local school districts. Birkeland estimates that the school would have lost $350,000 annually in revenue.
One year later, you can still see the remnants of this project and the missed opportunities it created. A vacant workforce camp, built to house workers for the pipeline, is located less than a mile from Philip.
“This was a government proclamation to state it’s OK for it to be built, [TC Energy] invests money in it, and then all of a sudden you pull out the plug,” Mike Albrecht, the man who leased the 80-acre parcel of land to TC Energy, said to Fox News.
This was only one of the four “man camps” that the energy company was creating along the pipeline. Albrecht said that Philip’s camp was the first to be built and that it cost TC Energy nearly $10 million to construct. It could have accommodated up to 1200 workers. After the pipeline was canceled by TC Energy, Albrecht negotiated with TC Energy and agreed to let the camp stand as it is. He plans to sell some of the camp’s infrastructure.
Albrecht stated, “I would love to have seen this run.” “Most cities were built hundreds of centuries ago, so it would have been fascinating to see a new one spring up and run.”
Birkeland expressed his dismay at Biden’s decision. I mean, this is America. It’s not a dictatorship, Christ!
He stated that oil transported by pipeline is safer than transporting it by rail car, truck or waterway barge. This was in response to the claim by the president of ending the project because of environmental concerns. “The only reason it was canceled was political.”
Birkeland stated that “a year later, it’s still on peoples’ minds.” “This will remain in people’s minds for many years.”
Adair stated that Philip residents are resilient. Many fear for their future.