Keystone Pipeline XL route approved
In a 3-2 vote, Nebraska’s Public Service Commission approved TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline XL route through the state this past Monday. The Commission’s vote was the last regulatory hurdle for Trans Canada’s , the energy company that’s been working to transport crude oil more than 1,100 miles from Alberta, Canada to the existing pipeline in Southern Nebraska for nearly 10 years. The crucial vote came less than a week after approximately 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the Keystone Pipeline in Marshall County, Nebraska.
Monday’s vote represented a critical milestone for Trans Canada, after former President Obama blocked the vote in 2015, citing issues with the environmental review and concern for potential impacts to the Sandhills ecosystem in Nebraska. While the commission voted to approve an alternative route that would allow for a more efficient emergency response, the vote was a blow to environmentalists and landowners who worry about potential spills and the impact on water supplies and farmland. Considering cleanup is underway for a spill that occurred less than a week ago, their concerns seem to be warranted.
In a statement released on November 16th, TransCanada representatives indicated that the Keystone pipeline was shut down at approximately 5:45 am CST after a loss of pressure was detected in the operating system. The leak reportedly occurred 35 miles South of the Ludden Pump Station in Marshall County, South Dakota on an isolated stretch of farmland. According to TransCanada, the affected portion of the pipeline was completely isolated and shut down within 15 minutes of the incident.
To date, authorities have been unable to identify the cause of the leak and have since deployed nearly 150 workers to assess the situation and monitor cleanup. Despite the quick response and assurances from Trans Canada representatives that the leak has not contaminated any bodies of water or adversely impacted the environment, locals remain wary of the pipeline.
In an interview with KSFY News, Marshall County landowner and Dakota Rural Action member Kent Moeckly, discussed his concerns over what locals called a rushed install in sloppy conditions.
“Well, it’s like the other shoe dropping. We were told by a lot of people that when TransCanada put this thing in the ground that the conditions, it was sloppy, wet conditions, and they just drove it in cause in a hurry, time is money.”
Full video interview available here.
A Messy History
While the Marshall County spill is the largest in Nebraska’s history, it’s not the first time the Keystone pipeline has leaked, since receiving approval in 2010. Less than two years ago, 16,800 gallons of oil spilled in Freeman County, South Dakota– the largest in it’s state history. Trans Canada had to re-issue a statement on the total oil spilled after cleanup efforts revealed that the initial estimate of 167 gallons, was grossly underestimated.
Loren Schultz, owner of Schultz Farms, first reported the oil spill after his neighbor noticed an oil-like sheen covering a ditch on his adjacent property. While cleanup began almost immediately after the incident was reported, Loren Schultz was unsure whether the land would be suitable for the corn she intended to plant on it.
But it’s not just landowners and farmers who are weary of ongoing pipeline development in the region. Activists and Indigenous leaders have also expressed concern. Last year, thousands of activists camped out at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, after Energy Transfer Partners began bulldozing sacred burial lands in preparation for development.
From August of 2016 to February of 2017, protestors known as ‘Water Protectors’, organized demonstrations to stall construction of the pipeline, which they said threatened the Ogallala aquifer and would exacerbate the impacts of climate change. Indigenous leaders from the Oceti Sakowan also claimed that the land belonged to First Nations, citing the 1851 Treaty of Fort Larimer that was never nullified.
For more than seven months, Water Protectors and the local police force engaged in a contentious struggle. Protestors were blasted with water in sub-zero temperatures, gassed and attacked by police dogs, while Tribal leaders worked to file an emergency injunction against further construction. Despite their best efforts and President Obama’s move to deny an easement for construction under the Missouri River, the Trump Administration signed an executive order to advance construction in January of 2017.
The Dakota Access Pipeline began transporting oil in May of 2017 and commercial operations began in June. To date, portions of the Dakota Access Pipeline have leaked on at least three separate occasions.
The Future of the Keystone Pipeline
Despite widespread outrage, proponents of pipeline developments see these projects as an opportunity to provide jobs, energy security and much needed tax revenue to rural economies. A report from the State Department estimates that the Keystone XL pipeline could create as many as 3,900 jobs during construction, and an additional 16,000 contractual jobs for firms providing materials and services. But in terms of long term job creation, the pipeline is only expected to generate around 35 full time jobs once construction is complete.
Even with the prospects of energy security and the potential for more jobs, the Keystone XL pipeline still faces an uphill battle. Because Nebraska’s Public Service Commission approved an alternative route, TransCanada will need to obtain additional permits for the new construction site. They will also need to issue easements to at least 40 landowners, some of which may be unaware of the fact that their land lays in the path of the new route.
But that’s not the only issue. The falling cost of oil, construction delays and anticipated costs related to permitting the new route, have also brought to light questions regarding the project’s financial viability. Russ Girling, President and CEO of TransCanada, addressed the issue in a statement posted on their website.
“As a result of today’s decision, we will conduct a careful review of the Public Service Commission’s ruling while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project”.
Local landowners and climate activists are also assessing the situation. Some are even calling this a minor victory in the nearly decade long battle to halt development. Mike Hudema, Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, shared his thoughts on the pipeline’s future.
“Today’s decision is no guarantee that this pipeline will ever be built. Nebraska opted not to give TransCanada its preferred route through the state, so the company now has more hurdles in front of its beleaguered pipeline. Given last week’s reminder of the dangers pipelines like Keystone XL pose, the resistance to this project will continue to grow and TransCanada will face legal challenges, and resistance to its construction plans on the land and in the banks.”