Senator Johanns says a series of public hearings on the Keystone XL pipeline could have a big impact on the route that is eventually approved, especially a public hearing to be held in the heart of the region that stirs the biggest controversy.
TransCanada Corporation’s proposal to build a pipeline through Nebraska might not cause a stir, except that the Keystone XL pipeline would cut through the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer.
Johanns says another route should be taken.
“It’s not that I object to the pipeline. Pipelines are a fact of life. They are everywhere, I mean, literally everywhere,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network. “But this pipeline, through the Sand Hills, through the aquifer, is a whole different ballgame.”
The $7 billion, 36-inch pipeline would carry oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, crossing Nebraska and five other states. The proposed route would go through the Sand Hills in north-central Nebraska, which have porous soils and high water tables. A rupture in that part of the state would likely pour oil into the Ogallala Aquifer. A report issued by a University of Nebraska engineering professor suggests that a major spill could contaminate drinking water over a very wide area, perhaps as far downstream at Kansas City, Missouri. TransCanada disputes the findings, claiming that improved techniques and technology have greatly increased response time to pipeline breaks.
Johanns speculates that if TransCanada would change the proposed route, opposition would melt away.
“I think they could relocate this thing and the controversy would, by and large, disappear. I won’t say it would completely disappear, but it would by and large disappear,” Johanns says.
The State Department has announced it will hold public hearings in September at the Capitols of the six states the pipeline is proposed to cross. An additional hearing will be held in the Sand Hills. Johanns requested a public hearing be held in the Sand Hills in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Johanns has high hopes that the public hearing in the Sand Hills will convince the State Department that it shouldn’t grant the permit to travel through such an environmentally fragile region.
State Department officials say the public hearings will give people a chance to voice their views on whether a Presidential Permit for the pipeline should be granted. A final environmental impact statement should be released in August. After its release, a 90-day review period will begin for federal agencies to comment on whether the pipeline would serve the national interest.
The United States House voted Tuesday 279-147 to require the State Department to make a decision by November 1st. The vote split Nebraska’s congressional delegation. Congressman Lee Terry, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sponsored the bill. Congressman Adrian Smith voted in favor of the measure, but Congressman Jeff Fortenberry voted against it. The State Department has stated it will make a decision by the end of the year.
Johanns says he’s mystified that TransCanada hasn’t been willing to listen to the protests.
“Boy, they’ve been stubborn,” Johanns says. “I don’t get it. I really don’t. They know that they’ve built one pipeline already in this state with no controversy. Why they picked this route and why they continue to want to buck the controversy is really beyond me. I just don’t get it.”