WASHINGTON May 15 The McKenzie County Sheriff
Department has a map of the narrow grid of two-lane highways
coming out of an oil-rich corner of North Dakota, each rutted
route lined with dozens of red stick pins marking the site of
traffic accidents so far this year.
The map is a sign of how infrastructure has failed to keep
up with the boom in U.S. oil production, as small roads built
for grain trucks and cars are overwhelmed by trucks laden with
equipment, sand and water used for drilling, and crude oil.
"The impatient drivers, when they're getting behind 18, 19,
20 trucks, you can't pass on a two-lane road. But people try
it," said Cal Klewin, executive director of the Theodore
Roosevelt Expressway Association, describing the dangerous
traffic in the region.
For Republican Senator John Hoeven, examples of gridlocked
roads in his home state help make the case for fast-tracking
the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline, which would help take more
than 100,000 barrels of oil per day -- about 500 trucks worth --
off of North Dakota roads.
Hoeven and other Republicans are pushing to include
approvals for TransCanada Corp's pipeline in a new
highway funding bill, the details of which are now being hashed
out by 47 lawmakers from the Senate and House of
Representatives, who face a looming June 30 deadline.
The pipeline would run from the Canadian oil sands south to
Texas refineries, picking up oil from North Dakota and Montana
along the way.
President Barack Obama put all but the southernmost portion
of the pipeline on hold earlier this year, pending further
environmental reviews. He has threatened to veto a highway bill
overriding his decision.
Many Democratic lawmakers have argued the Keystone permit
provision does not belong in the transportation bill. They say
the fight to include it puts at risk as many as three million
jobs fixing roads and bridges.
"We're talking about a highway bill, aren't we? This relates
directly to highways," Hoeven said in an interview.
"Those pipelines take trucks off the roads," he said,
pulling a road atlas out of his Capitol Hill desk to point out
highways in his state suffering from traffic-overload.
Klewin's group is pushing for a four-lane highway to help
move the trucks carrying supplies to and from drilling sites and
reduce the number of red pins on the sheriff's map. The pipeline
would also help, he said.
"I think we need both," Klewin said.
In Washington, lawmakers' staff have logged about 20 hours
of work so far finding areas of agreement on the bill, said
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, chairman of the conference
"We haven't got down to areas of disagreement, and we will,"
Boxer told reporters, when asked about the Keystone pipeline.
The final bill will need to find enough votes in the House
and Senate to pass, she noted.
"What I've said from the start is, if you load this up with
controversy that can't get through either house, it's a
Boxer said she will meet on Thursday with John Mica, the top
House Republican on the conference committee, and will meet
one-on-one with members over coffee on particular issues.
She said she will brief all 47 members of the committee this
week on progress, and give a public update of the private talks
to reporters once a week.
"I am optimistic the conferees will reach agreement on this
bill," Boxer said, citing strong letters from business groups
and unions urging lawmakers to finish their work by the