LINCOLN — At various points in a major venting session over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday, Ken Haar was aggravated, Robert Jones was amazed, and Teri Taylor was angry, afraid and sad.
There wasn’t room for many more people, but there was room for just about every emotion as the Nebraska Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee grilled advocates, opponents and neutral parties about TransCanada’s $7 billion petroleum transfer plan.
Ultimately, the outpouring of questions and answers could lead to action in the 2011 legislative session on such subjects as eminent domain, an emergency action plan for dealing with a possible oil spill and some sort of state policy for abandoned pipelines.
But based on what they heard Wednesday, it was hard to tell in what direction state lawmakers might head with an interim study ordered in the 2010 session.
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Haar, a state senator from Malcolm, said he was aggravated by a Keystone advertising campaign that depicted two major TransCanada projects, the 30-inch Keystone line already running through eastern Nebraska and the proposed 36-inch Keystone XL that would go through the Nebraska Sandhills and over the Ogallala Aquifer, as just two more additions to the pipeline network in Nebraska.
“I don’t buy that the safety of this pipeline is equivalent to all the other pipelines in the state,” he told TransCanada Vice President Jones during Jones’ testimony.
A few minutes later, in more give and take with Haar, Jones said he found it “an amazing point” for Haar to compare safety issues for a buried pipeline on land with what went wrong with an off-shore oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.
“To compare what we do — they’re just not comparable,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, Sandhills rancher Taylor made it clear she and the rest of her five-generation ranching family feel no sense of comfort with TransCanada as a potential presence on land they own in Rock, Holt and Keya Paha counties.
“It angers me,” Taylor said, “that this nation is so hungry for oil that we would be willing to risk two of the greatest treasures we have in the United States.”
As committee members absorbed an outpouring of information and opinion, TransCanada’s second plan for moving tar sands oil from Canada across Nebraska to Gulf Coast refineries remains under federal review.
The U.S. State Department has yet to act on a final environmental impact statement or to formally answer the question of whether the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.
TransCanada’s Jones obviously is hoping to get the thumbs-up in time to start construction next year.
He said the Nebraska portion of the route from Keya Paha County to Jefferson County was not only the most economically efficient, it’s also “the most environmentally responsible route.”
“There’s no avoiding the Sandhills,” he said, “... and the safety of the Ogallala Aquifer is a top priority for us.”
Among others meeting with the committee were four faculty members from the University of Nebraska, including Jim Goeke, a hydro-geologist based in North Platte, and John Gates, who concentrates on groundwater movement and quality from a Lincoln office.
Goeke said he is convinced the “majority of the aquifer would not be affected” in the event of an oil leak.
Said Gates: “We know for a fact that a lot of streams and rivers in the state are fed by groundwater flow.”
That means contaminated groundwater could get into surface water and become a problem downstream, including for Lincoln residents who get their drinking water from alluvial soils along the Platte River.
Sought out during a break, Goeke said he supports the pipeline as a Nebraska citizen, despite “lingering concerns.”
Ron Kaminski, based in Omaha as a union representative for Nebraska pipeline workers, strongly endorsed the Keystone XL project as a job magnet for his members.
“We have worked with TransCanada in the past,” Kaminski said, “and our relationship is a good relationship.”
He said as many as 30 of his union brethren were in the room Wednesday in support of the project.
“To kind of push TransCanada against a wall like they’re a bad guy is pretty sad,” he said.
Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, one of the major proponents of the interim study, said before the hearing that she wants to gather as much information as possible on pipeline-related issues.
“I guess I’ve decided in my own mind that it’s happening, whether we really want it to or not,” she said of Keystone XL.
“(I’m) not completely convinced that it’s going to give us what they’re portraying it as giving us, as far as jobs and tax revenues,” Dubas said.
And she’s certainly a possible source of new pipeline laws at the state level.
“I’m looking at that right now,” she said.