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Keystone XL pipeline remains hot issue in Nebraska

  • Daniel Wheaton
  • 1

Questions surrounding the public hearing and decision on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline remain unanswered, but Bold Nebraska, an activist group leading the charge against the pipeline, isn’t wasting any time.

Meeting in the Nebraska Union Monday evening, members of the group discussed their game plan to fight the pipeline.

After Gov. Dave Heineman’s approval of the new route in January, the state department announced the plan for a public hearing in Nebraska.

Ben Gotschall, a member of Bold Nebraska, said the hearing should occur sometime before the end of April.

Political drumbeats pressuring Obama to decide have increased in the past several weeks.

The Senate gave a nonbinding thumbs-up Friday to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, granting new hope to the pipeline’s proponents.

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven introduced an amendment on Friday to the budget proposal to approve the pipeline’s construction. The proposal passed 62 to 37, which puts the Senate’s opinions on record. Both Nebraska senators, Republicans Deb Fischer and Mike Johanns, voted along party lines favoring the pipeline. Measures attached to the budget proposals aren’t binding and mainly serve as a way to send a message. It is often called a “vote-a-rama.”

“The Department of State has done four environmental impact assessments over the past five years,” Hoeven said as he rose to introduce his measure. “It’s time that the Senate step up with the American people. Time for us to join every single state on the route to say we support this pipeline.”

In Washington, the issue is largely divided based on party lines. Some Democrats oppose the pipeline because of the possibility of a spill. Secretary of State John Kerry said the pipeline is an opportunity for Obama to take action on his green energy agenda. If the pipeline is installed, it would transport more than 800,000 barrels per day of oil from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast.

Conservatives have been supportive of the pipeline, arguing it would create jobs in the short-term and reduce dependence on foreign oil. The pipeline would largely be an export pipeline, however.

In Nebraska, opinions on the pipeline vary widely.

“Only senators who take millions from big oil companies could think that tar sands passing through our country to some unknown destination is going to give us energy independence,” said Randy Thompson, a Nebraska landowner. “Stop grandstanding and get to work for the American people, not foreign oil companies. We will not sit by as foreign oil gets the rewards and we get a lifetime of risks.”

Thompson has become the face of Bold Nebraska, his face appearing on the group’s signs and website. Len Schropfer, a farmer who lives south of Milligan, said he felt betrayed by elected officials who spout “talking points.”

“It’s just a network of lies,” he said.

Locally, support for the pipeline has been sold on the possibly for job creation. Additionally, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality released a report in January that found the environmental harms would be minimal. The pipeline’s opponents aren’t persuaded.

“A few thousand two-year jobs and 35 permanent jobs are only going to solve our country’s unemployment problem if this pipeline has mystical powers of some kind,” said Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska executive director. “Farmers and ranchers along the route will need all the magic out there when a spill happens, since our own government does not have a solution to clean up tar sands.”

Kleeb cited a 2010 tar sand and chemical spill in Michigan that “displaced hundreds of families and is costing over $1 billion.”

Political chatter surrounding the pipeline does not equate to action. The decision, which still rests on Obama’s shoulders, is expected later this year.


(1) comment


Bold Nebraska is ignoring the fact that the approval of KeystoneXL benefits the environment. Canada has stated that oil shipped via KeystoneXL will be done so under terms of an agreement that cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 17% ( In addition, shipping oil via KeystoneXL will reduce the number of trucks, trains, and barges needed to move the oil, further lowering these emissions. Also, pipeline transport is by far the most environmentally safe method of oil conveyance. Currently in the US, there are 170,000 miles of pipeline transporting 11.3 billion barrels of petroleum products each year, with only 0.7 incidents per 1,000 miles of pipeline from 2006 to 2008. In addition, 80% of pipeline spills involve less than 50 barrels of oil, with most involving less than three. And it should be noted that numerous studies (including this one from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality: show that KeystoneXL poses no significant risk to the environment.

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