Lawmakers Say Keystone Pipeline Route Out Of Their Hands

The State of Nebraska should explore enacting regulations to protect landowners and taxpayers from problems associated with pipelines, three state senators said Wednesday. But the state is probably powerless to tell a Canadian company to reroute a proposed 36-inch crude-oil pipeline around the sensitive, groundwater-rich Sand Hills region, they said. “I think the siting is a federal issue,” said State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton. Sens. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids and Ken Schilz of Ogallala agreed after a daylong hearing at the State Capitol about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. But the three senators, along with Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, indicated that they are exploring possible legislation. Ideas include amending state eminent domain rules, building more protection for landowners from liability for pipeline spills and ensuring that fragile grasslands are properly restored after pipeline construction. TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has emerged as one of the state’s top environmental issues in the wake of last summer’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill and a Michigan pipeline leak of nearly a million gallons of Canadian crude oil. The Nebraska pipeline would carry upwards of 700,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar-sand region of western Canada to oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Because the pipeline would cross an international border, the U.S. Department of State will decide whether the project should be approved. A decision is expected next year. But Nebraska lawmakers have expressed interest in exploring whether the state could enact laws to give it some power to regulate pipelines. The pipeline would cross about 112 miles of Nebraska’s Sand Hills, which water experts described Wednesday as a groundwater “treasure.” Jim Goecke, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln hydrogeologist and one of the state’s foremost groundwater experts, showed the senators a slide depicting the pipeline route crossing a large area of southwest Holt County. The area has a “high potential for contamination” because of sandy soil and aquifers that extend above the surface, he said. The 48-inch-deep pipeline would actually sit in the aquifer in many areas of the Sand Hills, said Goecke and two local ranchers who testified. But Goecke said any leaks would cause only local contamination — perhaps an area of a mile or two at the largest — because groundwater moves so slowly. However, one of his UNL colleagues, Wayne Woldt, said knowledge is limited about how a spill would affect the Sand Hills. He recommended that more research be done, partially funded by the pipeline industry. A TransCanada vice president, Robert Jones, testified that his company could safely build a pipeline through New York’s Central Park, the Everglades and the Andes. He said the selected route across Nebraska was the most economical and had the fewest environmental effects because it was the shortest route. Jones said obtaining the oil from a friendly ally like Canada was in the national interest because Venezuela and Mexico are ending oil shipments to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. “Do we want to send that money offshore or keep it onthe continent?” Jones asked. Opponents of the project testified that TransCanada’s computer monitoring wouldn’t detect leaks of less than 1 percent of flow, or 7,000 barrels of oil daily. They also argued that mining of tar-sand oil ruins the environment. If the pipeline is necessary, they said, it should be rerouted around the Sand Hills. “My father told me we’d see the day when water in Nebraska is more valuable than oil,” said Doug Cobb, who owns land on the pipeline route south of Stuart, Neb. “We need to think about that.” While TransCanada officials said that there are plenty of existing safeguards, environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and BOLD Nebraska suggested several possible actions: – Designate a state agency to oversee pipeline projects and spills. The State Fire Marshal’s Office inspects only pipelines that don’t cross state borders, and the State Department of Environmental Quality has limited power to ensure that spills are cleaned up. – Establish a state fund, financed by pipeline companies, to ensure that all cleanup costs are covered. – Clarify the rights of landowners regarding eminent domain actions by pipeline firms. – Support U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns’ call for an alternative route around the Sand Hills. – Require TransCanada to post a bond to cover any damage to Nebraska roads during pipeline construction. Dubas said she plans further study on eminent domain issues. She added that she was glad to hear that Nebraska landowners won’t have to return money already paid by TransCanada for easements. Her family has already agreed to rent some land to TransCanada for parking construction materials and equipment, a conflict of interest she declared several weeks ago. ((02 DEC 2010))

http://www.southwestiowanews.com/articles/2010/12/02/around_the_region/doc4cf7b028df66c402024415.txt

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03
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04
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05
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06
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18
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23
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