Canadian Pipeline Fuels Anger Of U.S. Landowner

David Daniel bought his dream plot of land six years ago — a 20-acre piece of east Texas paradise packed with hardwood trees and spring-fed creeks that burble year round. It was Daniel’s personal Walden Pond, a Thoreau-like retreat ideal for raising a young family. Then the surveyors from the Canadian oil company showed up, trudging across his property unannounced and uninvited, marking the course for a 2,700-kilometre pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta’s vast oilsands to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas. “This place was exactly what we were looking for,” Mr. Daniel says, “but now this pipeline will split my property in half. It’s quite depressing.” By dint of a geographic fluke, the 43-year-old carpenter finds himself at the centre, quite literally, of a high-stakes battle between environmentalists, landowners, the oil industry, members of Congress and the State Department over TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected decide early in 2011 whether to grant TransCanada a presidential permit to build the $7-billion international pipeline, which promises to dramatically expand the Canadian oil industry’s access to the U.S. market. Supporters of the project tout Keystone XL as vital to America’s energy security — by 2013, it could transport up to 900,000 barrels per day — and say it will boost a struggling U.S. economy by putting thousands of people to work, particularly in the hard-hit construction sector. But Ms. Clinton will make her decision against a backdrop of intense and increasingly well-organized opposition — not only from prominent environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, but from residents along the proposed pipeline route. In East Texas and Nebraska, some landowners accuse TransCanada of bullying them into granting right-of-way access to their land. Moreover, the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and several recent pipeline incidents have heightened fears a future Keystone XL rupture could pollute aquifers supplying groundwater to millions of Great Plains residents. “My family should not be forced to be lab rats in some for-profit corporate experiment,” says Mr. Daniel. In both Nebraska and east Texas, anti-pipeline groups have launched ‘whistleblower hotlines’ for landowners to report negative experiences with TransCanada negotiators. Mr. Daniel is among those who felt misled and intimidated into granting TransCanada a permanent easement allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline across his land near Winnsboro, Texas about 160 kilometres east of Dallas. Mr. Daniel says he learned about TransCanada’s proposed pipeline the hard way, when a neighbour notified him in July 2008 about trespassers on his property. Investigating the tip, Mr. Daniel said he discovered his land had already been surveyed and staked. It wasn’t until late August 2008 that Mr. Daniel received a letter with a “request for permission to survey” his property. After declining to grant permission — partly because the surveyors had already been on the land — Mr. Daniel received a letter in November2008 from a TransCanada lawyer in Houston. The letter advised Mr. Daniel the company preferred to strike a “good faith” deal but could use “eminent domain” laws to gain access to his property. “However, if an agreement is not reached by November 20, 2008, we have been instructed to seek a court order permitting Keystone to conduct survey operations on your property,” the letter says. The uncompromising tone upset Mr. Daniel. “This was before any negotiations,” he says. Apart from what he viewed as TransCanada’s hardball tactics, Mr. Daniel was concerned about the pipeline’s route and wanted numerous questions about answered about safety. The Keystone XL would run right through the wetlands at the lowest point of his property, disrupting several spring-fed creeks and requiring workers to cut a 50-metre-wide swath of 100-year-old oaks, elms and sweet gum hardwood trees. He asked TransCanada to consider shifting the route, but says the request was rejected. Mr. Daniel turned down the company’s first offer, of $2,446, in May 2009. He eventually struck a deal with TransCanada — in March 2010 for $13,950 — to build the pipeline through his land. But Daniel said he did so understanding the company held all the legal cards. “If you don’t take this offer, then we are going to take you to court, we’ll condemn your property, you’ll start at zero,” Mr. Daniel says, describing the company’s approach to negotiations. “They’ve got the power of eminent domain and they’ll just take it — so what do you do?” It was only after Mr. Daniel granted legal access to Calgary-based TransCanada that he learned the company did not yet have State Department approval for the pipeline, an assurance he said the company had given him. Terry Cunha, a spokesman for TransCanada, said he could not discuss the specifics of Mr. Daniels’ dealings with the company. But Mr. Cunha said he was “not aware of any” instances in which surveyors for the company trespassed on private property without permission. He also strongly disputed allegations the company has used strong-arm tactics with landowners along the pipeline route. Mr. Cunha says TransCanada has concluded successful agreements with 98% of the landowners along the proposed Keystone XL route through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. “That clearly demonstrates that we are working diligently and co-operatively with landowners across our pipeline route,” Mr. Cunha says. “Our commitment is to treat all of these landowners with respect and come to the best possible solution when working with them … An eminent domain process is used at very last resort, and it’s never used in any discussion or used as a threat in any way.” Mr. Cunha says some landowners mistakenly believe TransCanada is seizing their land, when they are only seeking the same easements that utility companies obtain to install power or water lines. “When we are done with it, we want to ensure that the landowner is able to continue to utilize that land in the nature it was used prior to us arriving to build our pipeline,” he says. TransCanada aims “to ensure that property is restored to its original state.” The dispute over TransCanada’s tacticsaside, Mr. Daniel says his larger concern is for the safety of his wife and young daughter who live with him in a home he built on the property. As he has “self-educated” about Alberta’s oilsands, Mr. Daniel has concluded it is more harmful to the environment and hazardous to transport than conventional oil. Of particular concern: the potential for corrosion of the pipeline, the toxicity of chemical dilutents added to the oil, and the dangers posed by the need to heat the oilsands bitumen to ensure proper flow. TransCanada employs “the latest technology in pipe manufacturing to make sure the pipe we are using is stronger than any existing pipe currently in the market,” Mr. Cunha says. But those assurances have been met with growing public skepticism of pipeline safety. First came the BP deepwater spill, then a leak on Calgary-based Enbridge Inc.’s pipeline last July in Michigan, which dumped 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. An oil pipeline explosion in Mexico on Dec. 20 killed 28 people. In Texas, environmentalists say a major oil spill along the Keystone XL route could threaten the Carrizo-Wilcox aquifer, which provides water to dozens of counties. Further north in Nebraska, environmentalists and lawmakers worry about the future of the vast Ogallala aquifer, which supplies water to more than two million people. Both of Nebraska’s senators — Democrat Ben Nelson and Republican Mike Johanns — have demanded Ms. Clinton accept the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s request for a supplemental environmental impact study on the impact of the Keystone XL pipeline. The EPA found an earlier draft environmental study to be “inadequate” because it didn’t provide enough detail on Keystone’s emergency response plans, the chemical composition of oilsands bitumen, or potential damage to groundwater from pipeline leaks or spills. “We have not made a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, and will not make one until we complete all steps of our review process,” Ms. Clinton wrote Sen. Nelson on Dec. 9. In a move to address public concerns about safety, TransCanada last summer withdrew a request with the U.S. Department of Transportation for a special permit to pump its oil at a higher pressure than is normally allowed. Instead of pumping the oil at 80% of the pressure the pipeline is rated to withstand, TransCanada plans to pump at 72%. “We determined we should remove the special permit and continue to address the concerns the public is presenting,” Mr. Cunha says. The company’s actions have done nothing to win over Mr. Daniel, who has organized a local chapter of the Stop Tarsands Oil Pipeline (STOP) campaign. “There is no reason I should trust them,” he says. ((29 DEC 2010))











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