Both sides got their say in a sometimes boisterous public hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline held by the State Department in Lincoln.
State Department officials listened dispassionately as speaker after speaker testified. Supporters touted the economic benefits of the pipeline. Opponents decried its potential environmental risk.
State Senator Jim Smith of Lincoln supports TransCanada’s proposal to build the oil pipeline from western Canada to the Gulf Coast.
“Now, I understand that many of my constituents and many across Nebraska have concerns about the environmental safety of this project. Specifically, its potential impact on the Ogallala Aquifer,” Smith told State Department officials. “Fortunately, the Department of State shared our concerns during its extensive, three-year environmental assessment of the project.”
The final environmental impact study conducted for the State Department concluded it isn’t likely the pipeline will contaminate the Sand Hills or the Ogallala Aquifer. It contrasted an earlier study by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor who questioned whether TransCanada was being overly optimistic about the safety of the pipeline and how quickly it could respond to a leak.
State Senator Ken Haar of Lincoln told State Department officials they shouldn’t neglect Nebraska.
“With all due respect to this committee, I would say today the majority of Nebraskans feel like national interest is being defined by the federal government and TransCanada and that you don’t give a damn about Nebraska,” Haar said to applause in the Pershing Center.
Jeers and cheers mixed together after speakers testified throughout the hearing. Applause for some would be met with boos as both sides vied for supremacy during the meeting. Some shouted their approval or disapproval of what a speaker would say.
Unions which would benefit from construction of the pipeline bused in hundreds of members who joined with business representatives voicing support for the pipeline.
Dane Simpson, a union worker from Illinois, questioned the wisdom of those who say they support TransCanada’s pipeline, but not its route; that they need more time.
“When a construction worker has bills piling up, do they get more time? When a construction worker can’t pay their mortgage, do they get more time? When the credit card companies are sending you letters, because you’re delinquent in your payments, do you get more time?” Simpson asked.
Lincoln resident Ruth Leach sympathized with the stance of the union members.
“And I want them to have jobs,” Leach said. “I’m not sure about pipelines, how we need them, how much oil we need, blah, blah, blah, all of that, but, move it then, move it away from the aquifer. Give us a chance.”
TransCanada proposes building a $7 billion pipeline 1,700 miles from western Canada to the Gulf Coast in Texas. It would carry crude oil derived from tar sands in Canada to refineries in the Gulf Coast. Public hearings are being held in each of the states the pipeline would go through, but much attention has been focused on Nebraska, because the route would run through the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer.
Supporters claim the pipeline would lessen the nation’s dependence on oil from the Middle East, create jobs and make the nation more severe. Opponents run on two tracks. Some support the pipeline, but oppose the route. Others oppose maintaining America’s dependence on fossil fuels and argue that the nation needs to wean itself off oil and develop alternative forms of energy.
The State Department will hold a second public hearing in Nebraska. It will begin Thursday at 4:30pm at West Holt High School in Atkinson.