TransCanada has submitted a second revision of the Nebraska portion of the route for its controversial Keystone XL pipeline, seeking to mollify critics fearful of the oil pipeline’s potential impact on ecologically sensitive terrain and waterways.
The company gave its redrawn route to the state Department of Environmental Quality, moving two segments of the line further east and moving another segment slightly to the west. The changes add 20 miles to the route, bringing the Nebraska portion to 275 miles, TransCanada said.
Russ Girling, chief executive of the Calgary-based firm, said the company had “refined” its proposed route “based on extensive feedback from Nebraskans and reflects our shared desire to minimize the disturbance of land and sensitive resources in the state.”
However, Jane Kleeb, Nebraska’s leading activist against the Keystone XL route, said in an e-mail that “the new route still risks our land, water and property rights. The new route still crosses high water tables, sandy soil which leads to higher vulnerability of contamination and still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, the lifeblood of Nebraska’s economy.”
Finding an acceptable route through Nebraska is a critical part of TransCanada’s effort to win approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Hardisty in the Canadian province of Alberta to Port Arthur, Tex. The southern leg of the project, starting in Cushing, Okla., has won approval already and construction on that leg has begun. The fate of the northern leg, ending in Steele City, Neb., still hangs in the balance.
Early this year President Obama rejected TransCanada’s initial proposal because he said Congress had imposed a deadline that did not leave enough time to weigh the pipeline proposal, especially the portion that ran through Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sand Hills and over parts of the vast Ogallala aquifer that provides drinking and irrigation water in several Great Plains states.
TransCanada now must present its plan to Nebraska’s Department of Environmental Quality, which will give its findings to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. He will approve or deny the plan, which will then go to the State Department of its review.
In its revised filing to the Nebraska DEQ, TransCanada said it would move the Keystone XL route to avoid areas “that exhibit similar characteristics to the Sandhills, even though they are not identified this way in existing literature or agency databases.” It said the areas to be avoided have “features similar to sand dunes and areas with sandy, erodible soils, with a thin organic layer of topsoil. The new re-route minimizes impact on these features.”
In another segment of the line, TransCanada now proposes to put its pipeline east of the town of Clarks to avoid areas where the groundwater is shallow and runs toward the town’s water supply.
In the third altered segment, TransCanada also redrew the route to avoid a water well head protection area.
“Keystone XL will be the safest pipeline built in America,” Girling said in a statement, adding that “TransCanada shares the goal of protecting key water and natural resources with Nebraskans.”
But Kleeb said, “We will not allow middle American to be the middle man for a foreign tar sands pipeline wanting to export their extreme form of energy to the highest bidder.”
Seven opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline chained themselves to a truck carrying pipe for the project until police came and arrested them. To get some of them loose, one of the truck’s bumpers had to be removed, according to activists there. Others attached themselves to the truck axle.
The demonstration in Livingston, Tex., was organized by a group called the Tar Sands Blockade, which on its Web site declared victory — for a day.
“Again, we witness the power of bringing together those battling corporate eminent domain abuse and those fighting to defend our natural commons from the unconscionable harm of surface mining and catastrophic climate change,” the group said. “Every day of delay is a victory.”
The group said that last week’s ruling by a judge in Lamar County, Tex., that TransCanada could use eminent domain to force landowners to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to cross their land left foes of the line little choice but to resort to civil disobedience. Four of the demonstrators — including a retired minister, a small businessman, a farmer and a woman who simply identified herself as “a grandmother” — posted videos explaining their position before attaching themselves to the truck.
“They are not going to endanger themselves or other people, but they will make their point consistently and effectively,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Texas Public Citizen.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is promoting his energy policy today, hailing the prospects of “North American energy independence.” The “North” part is important, because the United States — even with surprising new production in places like North Dakota — can’t come close to achieving oil independence on its own.
The key to getting to “North American energy independence” is Canadian oil from Canada’s controversial, greenhouse gas-intensive oil sands — and the pipelines to bring that to the United States.
In his white paper issued Thursday, Romney reiterated that he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Unfortunately, President Obama has chosen to turn his back on America’s neighbors,” the white paper says. “He rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have dramatically increased the supply of Canadian oil to the U.S. market, and now Canada plans to send that oil to China instead. Today, America still imports more oil from OPEC than it does from Canada and Mexico.”
According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States imports 3 million barrels a day from Canada and 1 million barrels a day from Mexico. The United States imports 4.7 million barrels a day from OPEC members, with the three largest being Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iraq. The OPEC list also includes west African nations of Angola and Nigeria.
The Keystone XL pipeline would ultimately add about 730,000 barrels a day to Canada’s total. (Another 100,000 barrels a day would be picked up from North Dakota and Montana). Nearly all of Canada’s energy exports — including natural gas and hydropower — go to the United States.
Although Canada’s Prime Minister Harper has talked about turning to Asia, any plan to export oil to China faces huge obstacles in Canada, including financing and opposition from environmental groups, west coast provincial governments and Canadian Indian tribes.
A judge in Lamar County, Tex., ruled Wednesday night that TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline had the right of eminent domain, rejecting a plea by farm manager Julia Trigg Crawford and dealing a blow to landowners and environmentalists who have been trying to block construction of the pipeline.
The ruling by Judge Bill Harris removes yet another potential obstacle for TransCanada. The company already has permits from the Army Corps of Engineers for the southern leg of the pipeline, which starts in Cushing, Okla. and runs to Port Arthur, Tex. TransCanada has said it will start building as soon as possible.
In March, President Obama endorsed the construction of the southern leg of the pipeline. He said it would alleviate a supply bottleneck at Cushing, where the benchmark price of oil is set for the U.S. market.
But environmental groups and some landowners have been mounting a campaign to stop or delay construction because of the threat a leak might pose for rivers and wetlands.
Crawford had asserted that the Keystone XL pipeline was not entitled to eminent domain because the pipeline would not be a common carrier, open to a variety of oil companies. She said that as a private project, it needed to negotiate rights of way without compelling landowners to enter agreements.
Usually the option of using eminent domain for pipelines is granted by state agencies; in Texas, it is recognized by the Texas Railroad Commission, a long-time regulator of the state oil industry.
Eminent domain is a touchy topic in Texas. In 2002, Gov. Rick Perry proposed a Trans-Texas Corridor, a private sector network of highways. The main artery would be a 600-mile road running from Mexico to the Red River that would be the width of four football fields. After an outcry about the seizure of private land – and increased traffic from Mexico – the state transportation department killed the idea.
“Of course we are incredibly disappointed in today’s ruling,” Crawford said in an e-mail late Wednesday night. “Disheartened that Texas landowners must still challenge oil corporations in court on what should be state-level permitting issues….and disturbed that a foreign corporation like TransCanada is allowed to hide behind the skirt of the Texas Railroad Commission and its Common Carrier rubber stamp.”
Jane Kleeb, an activist with the group Bold Nebraska who has been fighting the pipeline’s eminent domain status, said in an e-mail Wednesday night: “A foreign oil company — exporting a form of energy that our government is still studying and the Canadian government just issued a safety violation on — gets to seize American land without proving they are a common carrier and without any requirement that Americans get a drop of the oil. There is something wrong with this picture.”