Pipeline controversy continues as decision deadline gets closer
On a warm Friday night in August, a feisty crowd swarmed the sidewalks. in Lincoln, Neb. But it wasn't a college bar crawl. Half a dozen blocks from the downtown bars, just across the street from the Capitol, hundreds of people ringed the governor's mansion to make a point, whooping and chanting "Save our water!"
The object of all the attention was Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Some critics want him to ask the Legislature to ban the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from that would run from Alberta, Canada to Texas. In Nebraska it would cross the Sandhills, which sit atop the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground water source stretching from South Dakota to Texas.
Supporters say the pipeline will create jobs and assure a supply of oil from a friendly country.
But there are concerns about leaks that have occurred in the existing Keystone pipeline, which was built by the same company, TransCanada.
North Dakota rancher Bob Banderet, who lives a mile and a half from TransCanada's current Keystone pipeline, recounted a scene from last May at a a recent meeting in Lincoln, Neb., sponsored by pipeline opponents.
"We were just finishing up calving, so that's probably why I was out there so early in the morning," he recalled. A "geyser" of oil was shooting up in the air. "It was over the tops of the cottonwood trees," he said, estimating its height at 60 or 80 feet.
Banderet called TransCanada to report the spill. He said the company first sent out a lone technician, who took about two and a half hours to get there to confirm the spill. Then cleanup crews were called, with the first cleanup trailer arriving five hours after the spill was reported, Banderet said.
TransCanada spokesman Jeff Rauh doesn't dispute the timeline, but he said that's not the whole story.
"What was not mentioned was that prior to that, you've got immediate action occurring to secure the pipeline, to shut the valves, to isolate the leak. So that the leak is stopped and then the process becomes one of containing and cleaning up," he said.
A report TransCanada filed on the incident with the North Dakota Public Utilities Commission said 500 barrels of oil spilled before cleanup began.
The U.S. Department of Transportation did order the pipeline shut down after another leak in Kansas; it reopened after a week. Rauh said this shows the system worked ... and will work if the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is permitted to cut across the Sandhills, instead of taking a more circuitous route to avoid the Ogallala Aquifer.
"The assessment has demonstrated that the impacts of a release in the Sandhills are localized, and that if you move it to another location you're not going to eliminate that risk." To the contrary, he added, by building on a longer route to avoid the area, "you actually increase risk."
The question of routing has become somewhat of a political football. Nebraska Gov. Heineman said he'd prefer a route that avoids the Sandhills. But the Republican said people who want the state to regulate routing should pressure Washington Democrats instead of him.
Anthony Swift, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the question of pipeline routing involves creating new laws -- and that's not a federal matter.
"What the federal government does not have authority over, and in fact has been told they cannot regulate in any way, are questions of the pipeline routing," Swift said. "And what this means is that if pipeline routing is not a federal government area of jurisdiction, it is solely in the states' -- and if not in the states' in the counties' -- power to regulate pipeline routing."
TransCanada's Rauh said just because that power exists, it doesn't have to be used.
"Routing a pipeline is something that states can do. What is missed is we're in the third year of a federal regulatory review that is looking at those very issues," he said.
Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the State Department is heading up that review. Its latest environmental impact statement says alternative routes would not offer environmental advantages. (To see the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, click here.) The Environmental Protection Agency has questioned that conclusion. (To see the EPA's reaction letter, click here.)
The State Department is planning public meetings in the capital of each state the pipeline would cross: Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, as well as additional meetings on the Gulf Coast and in the Sandhills. A spokeswoman said those meetings are expected to be held in second half of September. A final decision on whether or not to permit the pipeline is expected by the end of the year.
© Copyright 2011, NET Radio