Nebraska Senator: Why can’t pipeline bypass Ogallala Aquifer?

U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns called on federal officials Thursday to explain why a proposed crude-oil pipeline cannot bypass the porous soils of the Nebraska Sandhills and the heart of the Ogallala Aquifer. Johanns said in an interview he could not support the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline until federal regulators and the pipeline operator, TransCanada Inc., answer that question. The aquifer provides 78 percent of the state’s drinking water and 83 percent of the groundwater used for irrigation. Additional costs should not be a concern, Johanns said, suggesting that the pipeline might be safer if it were rerouted alongside an existing 30-inch pipeline in eastern Nebraska rather than routed through the Sandhills. “I don’t believe we have any responsibility to compromise on safety of the aquifer due to a cost differential,” said Johanns, a Nebraska Republican. “If there is a cost issue, show me the analysis. Then we can make an intelligent decision.” TransCanada Inc. considered several alternate routes, a spokesman said, including one that would parallel the existing Keystone pipeline, which extends from near Vermillion, S.D., to Steele City, Neb. But Robert Jones, a vice president of the company, said the Sandhills route was chosen as “preferred” because it is the shortest path between the tar-sand region of Alberta and a pipeline terminal near Steele City, on the Kansas border. “You’re looking at a routing that impacts the fewest landowners and has the fewest river and road crossings,” Jones said. “You need less energy and less operating costs. That translates into benefits for the public in terms of lower costs.” Johanns has sent a letter about his concerns to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The letter comes as environmental groups have ratcheted up their criticism of the project and after TransCanada launched a publicity campaign billing the Keystone XL as the safest pipeline ever in the state. The 36-inch pipeline is designed to carry 700,000 barrels of crude oil a day from western Canada to oil refineries on the Gulf Coast. It would roughly double Canada’s capacity to ship tar-sand oil to the United States. TransCanada began operating the 30-inch Keystone pipeline this year, but the Keystone XL project has generated much more opposition because it crosses the Sand Hills and also because of publicity about recent oil spills, including the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Gov. Dave Heineman, who has previously said that the pipeline is federally regulated and that the state has little to say about it, weighed in on the project this week. In a letter Tuesday to Clinton, he stated that he shared Nebraskans’ concerns that a “safe route” be chosen to protect the state’s water supply. U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who has raised questions about the pipeline, said Thursday that Johanns’ concerns “are exactly the kinds of issues that we need and expect the State of Nebraska to give guidance on.” The State Department is reviewing the project because it crosses an international border. ((15 OCT 2010))




























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