KXL supporters and opponents clash in O'Neill

Pipeline opponent Art Tanderup demonstrates how he says pollutants will move through soil (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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June 8, 2017 - 12:05am

Supporters and opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska renewed their battle at a public meeting Wednesday in O’Neill.

A total of 90 speakers spoke at a meeting that stretched over seven hours – part of the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s effort to get public input on the pipeline. It’s proposed to run from north central Nebraska diagonally southeast, part of a project to carry diluted bitumen from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

 One of the first to speak in favor was former Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk. Flood talked about how the original Keystone pipeline, built farther east in the state in 2009 with very little controversy, had been good for his hometown. “Our stores were thriving at a time when the economy was at its worst following the collapse of the economy in 2008. It was absolutely a good thing for Norfolk. And when you look at farm prices today, it will do great things for O’Neill and Neligh and Albion and York and Beatrice and Steele City. This pipeline comes at great time. We need this economic boost and shot in the arm,” Flood said.

A law the Legislature passed when Flood was speaker says the federal government, not the Public Service Commission, has jurisdiction over safety concerns. But the PSC does have the authority to consider different routes. Sherry Loseke, a Boone County farmer, urged the commission to consider that. “If you are unwilling to deny the permit, move it to the current Keystone One route. Sen. Flood is certain that’s no problem,” she said.

Flood also brought up geopolitical considerations. “If we don’t produce enough oil as a nation, and we’re forced to import this energy as we are today, I choose Canada over countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia. I choose Canada because I don’t want Vladimir Putin or the leader of a country that doesn’t treat women as equals to have a say over whether America can remain the world’s greatest and strongest economy,” he said.

But Jane Kleeb, leader of the Bold Alliance anti-pipeline group, said steel for the pipeline was produced in Russia as well as India, and a refinery where the oil would be processed was owned by Saudi Arabia. “So if Speaker Flood is so worried about Russia and Saudi Arabia and us giving our money to those countries, he should put on a pipeline fighter tee-shirt and join our side,” Kleeb said.

Other opponents, like Sandra Slaymaker of Atkinson, also questioned the benefits when they said the refined oil products would be shipped to China. “What benefits does this pipeline – owned by foreign investors, delivering dirty tarsands from Canada to a refinery also owned by a foreign corporation, for export to foreign countries – what  does this bring to the people of Nebraska?” Slaymaker asked.

Chad Gilbert, a union official from Colorado, said one answer was construction jobs for union members. “They’re good people. They’re family-oriented people, no different than the people in the audience – the people that are here that are protesting the pipeline. We advocate for their jobs, and I was elected to office, so I’m going to do the best job I can to advocate for our members’… jobs,” Gilbert said.

But Shannon Graves of Bradshaw said that was outweighed by other considerations.”For the pipeline fitters and the welders and the backhoe drivers and the inspectors and the field land managers and the executives, it is just a job. But for me, for the farmers and ranchers, the cattlemen, the businessmen, our Native brothers and sisters, our grandchildren and our grandparents, it’s our lives. It’s our homes. This is our universe. So they can go get another job, but we only have one universe. Please protect it,” Graves said.

Ruth Jensen, a TransCanada employee, tried to reassure people that the Keystone XL would be safe, and compared it favorably to existing infrastructure. “There are over 20,000 miles of pipeline already in Nebraska, most of which cross the aquifers and including pipelines much older than this one,” Jensen said.

But pipeline opponent Ray Kopecki said history showed such assurances were worthless. “The Titanic sunk. The Bismarck sunk …and nobody ever thought the twin towers were going to go down. I mean nothing lasts forever. It’s going to leak. It’s a matter of when and how much when it does leak. And I don’t know what we could do to clean it up but it would be a tremendous mess,” Kopecki said.

As the day wore on, the somewhat even early exchange between the two sides gave way to speakers opposing the pipeline outnumbering supporters by about a 3-1 ratio. Still, Holt County landowner James Crumly said the project represents energy independence, and support for it is widespread. “Eighty three percent of the Nebraska landowners located on the Keystone project have signed their easement contracts. These people believe in energy independence also,” Cremly said.

Cremly also pointed to support from Gov. Pete Ricketts, a majority of the Legislature, and the state’s congressional delegation. But the question now is the attitude of the Public Service Commission. There will be more public hearings in August, and the Commission is expected to make its decision sometime later this year.






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