The Exxon pipeline rupture shows that pipeline leaks can and do happen, and that it is a disaster when landowners, emergency responders, and community officials are not adequately prepared for such an occurrence. We are landowners along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route and downstream from the Missouri and Yellowstone river crossings who are concerned about the impact that another spill would have on our families’ health, water quality and ability to make a living on the land in Montana.

The Keystone XL will be nine times the size of the Exxon pipeline that recently ruptured — with exponentially larger impacts should there be a spill. The Keystone I pipeline, which runs through North Dakota, has had 12 leaks in its first year of operation. Because the Keystone XL pipeline needs a permit from the state of Montana, we call on Gov. Brian Schweitzer to protect Montanans along the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers by requiring that:

TransCanada provide a comprehensive emergency response plan for public review prior to issuance of a permit.

All disturbed land be reclaimed, in consultation with soil scientists familiar with the region.

A comprehensive engineering study of pipeline pressures and worst-case spill risks specific to KXL.

If a person’s water supply is contaminated by construction or pipeline operation, all costs associated with finding and providing a permanent water supply of comparable quality and quantity be covered, as well as any other damages, including but not limited to any consequences, medical or otherwise, related to water contamination.

The pipeline bear liability for surface and water damage.

All hydrologically sensitive areas are identified and a plan is implemented to protect them.

A certificate specifying which government agency will oversee all construction activities in Montana.

We have valid reasons for our concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline:

TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline produced 12 spills in its first year of operation.

Tar sands oil is a corrosive material. The overall Alberta pipeline system that carries tar sands oil has had approximately 16 times as many spills due to internal corrosion than the U.S. system.

The Keystone pipeline is a 36-inch pipeline, and will have a transport capacity of up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day — 20 times more than the ExxonMobil pipeline.

The Keystone pipeline is routed to cross the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has an opportunity to make TransCanada build their Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to the highest level of safety and quality standard possible. Assurances are not enough. We are glad that the governor has made it his cause to make Exxon fix the mess, but there is some damage that won’t ever be fixed. The best medicine is preventative and it is time to be preventative on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Farmers, ranchers, and other landowners along the route of the Keystone XL pipeline have been treated like we are just in the way. We wish it did not take a disaster like the Exxon spill on the Yellowstone River to show that our concerns are valid and should be taken seriously.

The risks are real, and the impacts of a failure are real. We need to start taking those risks seriously instead of accepting the standard reassurances that everything will be OK. The permitting process for Keystone XL is currently in progress, and Schweitzer is in a position to prevent a disaster from Keystone XL. Governor, please use your position toward that end.

Darrell Garoutte of Wolf Point chairs the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group. Tim Hess of Terry and Doris Frost of Miles City are members of that group and own land near the Yellowstone River.