More than 600 people packed a hearing in Albion, Neb. Tuesday night to discuss the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.
This was the first and only hearing on the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality’s report on the proposed oil pipeline route. The pipeline is designed to transport oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.
After a public outcry over the originally proposed route through the Sandhills, pipeline company TransCanada agreed last year to change the route. At the hearing, Corey Goulet, vice president of Keystone pipeline projects for TransCanada, got right to the point.
“We believe the reroute of the pipeline in Nebraska is a good one, and should be approved,” he said.
That set off hours of often impassioned testimony for and against the project. Among those supporting it was Larry Crouse.
"I have a ranch in Mills, Neb. - Keya Paha County up here - that the pipeline is going to be going through," he said. "I’m here in favor of the pipeline. The people that came and saw me about it explained everything. I’ve got a stack of papers that high, showing their records and what they’re doing, and I’m convinced that they can put this in."
Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News
Teri Taylor speaks during a meeting in Albion, Neb. about the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.
On the other side was Teri Taylor, whose ranch near Newport was on the original route. Taylor called the shift in the route bittersweet.
“Sweet, only because after battling for the sanctity of the very thing that has sustained our family’s ranching operation for over 100 years – our land and our water—with the rerouting of the pipeline we are no longer facing the pipeline on our ranch," she said. "Bitter, because now we see friends and neighbors experiencing the very nightmare that we have just awakened from."
Pipeline opponents have stressed the threat to the Ogallala Aquifer if a leak occurs. The DEQ’s report on the proposed route found that any leaks would have local impact, not regional. That point was supported by Berton Fisher, an earth science PhD who testified for the American Petroleum Institute and the pro-pipeline Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence.
“If released from the pipeline, any downward movement of this material can only take place above the top of the water table. That’s because it is less dense than water – it’s about the same density. So it can’t penetrate through the water table. And in fact, the mere presence of water in the aquifer will retard the movement of any oily material within the aquifer,” he said.
But Cindy Myers, a nurse from Stuart, Nebraska, faulted DEQ’s report for its treatment of substances like benzene, used to dilute tar sands oil for shipment.
"Your information regarding movement of benzene in groundwater was based on model from the California EPA. And how can this be accurate for Nebraska?” she asked. “You cannot have an accurate model of benzene solubility because of the unknown mixture of the solvent in the oil product,” she added.
Ron Sedlacek, representing the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, praised federal and state government reviews of the pipeline proposal. “We have confidence in the scientific, thorough review conducted by the officials at the Department of State, other federal agencies, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and other state agencies,” he said.
But Susan Luebbe, who ranches near Stuart, Nebraska, faulted the state for hiring a consultant who has done work for TransCanada, and for what she said was a disorganized report. “Truly an embarrassing documentation for two million (dollars) this report is costing us,” she said. “NDEQ, you let us down.”
Some concerns were global. Elaine English of Omaha supported the idea of importing oil from Canada as opposed to other countries.
“Canada is our number one source of imported oil in America. They are a country that shares our commitment to protecting the environment, preserving human rights, protecting workers and growing the wealth of their own citizens. The most ethical oil in the world comes from the producers in Canada and right here in the United States,” she said.
That drew strong objection from Donna Roller of Lincoln. “Has she looked at pictures of what Canada’s doing?” she asked. “They are devastating their environment. What is ethical about that?”
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J. Paul McIntosh speaks during a meeting in Albion, Neb. about the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Other concerns were more local. J. Paul McIntosh of Norfolk called opponents’ concerns about oil in the aquifer disingenuous, considering ranchers used to use oil to keep down dust. “In fact, during the 1950s and early ‘60s, most towns and cities along the C&NW Railroad spread hundreds of carloads – train carloads – of partially distilled crude oil, which were thinned with naptha and benzene to make it less viscous, on their streets to hold down dust. Tens of thousands of gallons of this material was spread each year by towns and villages sitting over the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska during this time,” McIntosh said.
Gordon Adams of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma said pipeline construction would disturb historic sites. “I believe it would be impossible for them to dig a trench and not come up with some sort of human remains – some sort of town, some sort of something – that has to do with the Pawnee Nation,” he said.
And Sterling Schultz of Naper wondered why the pipeline couldn’t use the route that was used for a pipeline built in 2009 with little controversy. “Why not locate the Keystone XL oil pipeline adjacent to and parallel to the right of way for the existing and presently operating TransCanada Keystone pipeline in eastern Nebraska?” he asked. “To date, this concern has not been addressed in the whole review process.”
The DEQ will now send a final report to Gov. Dave Heineman. He will then make a recommendation to the federal government early next year. Then it will be up to the State Department, or, if there is disagreement with another federal agency, it will be up to the president to make a final decision.