Nebraskans gather for final public hearing on Keystone pipeline

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December 4th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Nebraskans will make their voices heard at a public hearing tonight in Albion. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality is holding a final hearing on a proposed new route of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

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The NDEQ is expecting a large crowd at the hearing which is set to take place tonight at the Boone County Fairgrounds in north central Nebraska. Environmental groups opposed to the pipeline held pre-hearing press conferences to rally opposition, and supporters will likely be there in good numbers too.

The original Keystone pipeline route cut directly through the Nebraska Sandhills, but critics say the new route still does not avoid the ecologically-fragile area. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

The Keystone pipeline has been in the works for several years. It’s planned to transport tar sand oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, and its controversial route through the Nebraska Sandhills and over the Ogallala aquifer caused a public outcry that led to President Barack Obama stalling the project in January. But the company building the pipeline, TransCanada, proposed a new route for the pipeline and that was reviewed by the NDEQ, which published its findings in October.

Jane Kleeb, director of BOLD Nebraska, a key group in the opposition, said despite the months and years that have passed, opposition to the project is as strong as it was on day one. “You’re talking about landowners that are near the route,” Kleeb said. “This is their livelihood that is at risk or their neighbor’s livelihood at risk. So they are deeply, not only emotionally invested, but they’re caring about the legacy they’re going to hand over to their kids.”

But supporters argue the pipeline will bring much-needed economic activity and jobs to Nebraska, while aiding the country’s energy needs. In the NDEQ’s report, the department says the pipeline would provide $278 million in economic benefits for the state and support 2,740 new or existing jobs. But Kleeb said TransCanada’s new route does not do what Nebraskans demanded: avoid the Sandhills and Ogallala aquifer.

“They essentially didn’t move the route, they moved the Sandhills,” Kleeb said. “They kind of shrunk the Sandhills on a map in order to get around and in order to say to the public they’re avoiding the Sandhills, when in fact, this is just as risky a route as it was on day one.”

In the NDEQ’s report, the department says the pipeline was re-routed to avoid fragile soils in the northern portion of the initial route, and the definition of the Sandhills area was provided to TransCanada by the department.

The NDEQ says it will take all public comment into consideration before it prepares its final report for Governor Dave Heineman’s approval. TransCanada’s pipeline permit must still be approved by the U.S. State Department.

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