Dubas To Lead Legislative Study On Proposed Oil Pipeline

Concerns over the possible impact that a proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline would have on Nebraska’s Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer have led state Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton to lead a legislative interim study concerning TransCanada’s request to build the pipeline through Nebraska. Dubas said lawmakers will look at state laws to determine what responsibility the state has with pipelines being built inside its borders and what laws are needed, if any, to better manage future proposed pipelines in Nebraska. The first hearing will be at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the State Capitol in Lincoln. There will be a short briefing by selected experts before opening up to public testimony. Dubas is a member of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, which is conducting the interim study. Portions of the pipeline would go through Dubas’ 34th Legislative District. Among the concerns the interim study will take up are the possible impacts on the Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer, which lies beneath the Sandhills. The aquifer is a vital component for agricultural success as more than 60 percent of Nebraska’s crop fields are irrigated, mainly by water from the aquifer, accounting for billions of dollars in crop cash receipts. Also, the ecology of the Sandhills could be threatened by the construction and operation of the pipeline. “Through the series of meetings we have held over the summer talking to people who really know what they are talking about, there is a very real concern about the ability to reclaim that land,” Dubas said. “We know how fragile the Sandhills are. Those ranchers have been out there for generations, and I don’t think we should ignore the concerns that they have raised as far as how seriously impacted that area could be if there should be any problems with that pipeline.” On Tuesday, Plains Justice released a report showing that TransCanada’s emergency response plan and on-the-ground spill defense preparations for the Keystone pipeline system are inadequate to respond to a serious spill along the thousands of miles of buried pipeline already in place or currently proposed in the northern Great Plains. According to the report, recent tar sands pipeline spills, such as the Enbridge spill in Michigan, strongly suggest that TransCanada’s new high-capacity, high-pressure pipelines across the American heartland requires greater, not lesser, safety and spill response measures. Based on extensive review of the data, Plains Justice concludes that this kind of planning is not in place for the Keystone system. The report describes serious deficiencies in the emergency response planning implemented by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration as, in many areas of the country, stricter Environmental Protection Agency or U.S. Coast Guard regulations provide higher levels of spill defense. In the Great Plains states, PHMSA’s jurisdiction leaves gaps in response coverage, according to the report. In the upper plains in particular, the report finds that spill response equipment is located at such distances from tar sands pipelines that the speed of emergency responseanticipated by TransCanada in its environmental planning documents is unrealistic. Local infrastructure in geographically remote, nonindustrial areas of the northern plains is inadequate to support the kind of spill response activities that proved necessary to contain the large Enbridge spill before it reached Lake Michigan, according to Plains Justice. Dubas said she has been sharing her concerns about the proposed pipeline through Nebraska with the state’s congressional delegation. “This basically is a federal project,” Dubas said. “The state has some involvement in it, but the permitting and process come from the federal level.” She said the purpose of the interim study is “just to present factual information” on state statutes dealing with eminent domain and state permits on pipeline construction. Dubas said they have talked with water experts and other officials at the University of Nebraska on the environmental impact of the proposed pipeline. “We are just looking to put out factual information and what type of tax revenues and jobs can we really expect from this pipeline,” she said. “There is a lot of information on both sides of this issue out there, and I felt that my colleagues needed factual information so, if there is legislation we introduce in the next session, it is based on those facts.” Dubas said she has also talked with landowners who have signed contracts with the pipeline company to have it go through their property and who have expressed satisfaction with the plan. “But you don’t hear a lot from out in the public supporting this,” she said. “But there is a pretty strong possibility that a pipeline like this can come through here again.” Dubas said people are still concerned about the ecological impact of the oil spill earlier this year in the Gulf of Mexico, where companies said they had detailed plans to address a potential spill but were slow to implement them or the plans were nonexistent. “This company (TransCanada) has made the same exact comments, but how are we to be guaranteed that, if there was a problem, it would be addressed the way this company says it is?” she said. The Plains Justice report details recommendations for improvements both in the federal regulatory process and in TransCanada’s planning efforts. “The BP Gulf spill demonstrates the importance of planning for all contingencies and having necessary specialized equipment on the ground and ready to go,” the report reads. “The oil industry has great confidence in its technical abilities and resources, but it nonetheless needs to plan for the worst so that it can minimize damage through a quick and effective response. Quick response requires both good planning and pre-positioning of significant amounts of spill response resources. “Areas that have suffered through oil spills, such as Alaska and the Gulf Coast, have large amounts of equipment and personnel ready to go. The northern Great Plains does not. This report is intended to promote good planning and an appropriate commitment of industry resources to the northern Great Plains so that the industry can limit the damage caused by spills — and not just mop up its mistakes.” ((24 NOV 2010))

http://www.theindependent.com/articles/2010/11/24/news/local/12666195.txt

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