Keystone XL —- More Input Sought

More input sought on pipeline. The U.S. Department of State announced late Tuesday that it wants more public input before deciding whether to issue a permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would cross a portion Nebraska’s groundwater-rich Sand Hills. The State Department, in a press release, said it would take comments for an additional 45 days after it issues a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., had requested such a step after saying that TransCanada, Inc., consider rerouting their crude-oil pipeline so it doesn’t cross the fragile soils of the Sand Hills, which overlies the Ogallala Aquifer. Johanns, in a prepared statement, said that while the country needs additional energy sources, that he is concerned about the “sloppy routing” and “incomplete analysis” of such a pipeline crossing such a sensitive area. “I believe there are better options to protect the Ogallala Aquifer and I look forward to the additional review,” Johanns said. “The analysis must fully consider the potential of a pipeline through sandy soil over the middle of the aquifer where the water table is so high.” “We have only one Ogallala Aquifer and we must protect it,” the senator said. U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman have also raised concerns about public input into the process and if the safest route has been chosen. Jane Kleeb, an activist and founder of BOLD Nebraska, said that Tuesday’s development was good news for opponents of the project, but also highlighted the importance of the Nebraska Legislature passing a bill this year on the issue. During meetings last week with State Department officials, Kleeb said opponents were told that states, and not the federal government, have the power to declare “environmentally sensitive” areas off limits to projects like crude-oil pipelines. She said that Gov. Heineman or the Legislature could, and should, do that to ensure that the vital groundwater supplies of the state are not threatened. A handful of bills were introduced in the State Legislature this year, but only one bill was prioritized by a senator, Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, and it failed to advance from a committee last week after getting only two of the five votes necessary. That prompted Schuyler Sen. Chris Langemeier, the chairman of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee, on Monday to say that pipeline bills were likely dead for the 2011 session. Kleeb said that Tuesday’s announcement makes it clear that the time for action is now. “Our legislators are listening to TransCanada and its lobbyists,” she said. “I don’t expect them to be experts, but I do expect them to listen to the testimony of Nebraskans and know the difference between federal and state laws.” Officials from TransCanada, who already operate a crude-oil pipeline that crosses eastern Nebraska, have said the larger, 36-inch Keystone XL pipeline will be the safest pipeline ever. Leaks will be unlikely, would be detected quickly and would not threaten the Ogallala Aquifer, they have said. They maintain that the U.S. needs a reliable source of oil from a friendly ally like Canada. Opponents like Kleeb, however, maintain that mining of the tar-sand oil that would be pumped from Canada is especially harmful to the environment. They say that such thick oil, and the chemical additives used to make it flow through a pipeline, is more corrosive and more prone to leaks, which would threaten groundwater in the porous Sand Hills. The State Department on Tuesday said it expects to make a final decision on whether to grant or deny a permit before the end of the year. The department will also solicit public comment and host a public meeting in Washington, D.C., on whether issuance of the permit is in the U.S. national interest. ((15 MAR 2011))








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