Nebraska residents wary of crude oil pipeline
The Keystone pipeline is a massive 2,100 mile long crude oil pipeline that has been under construction for several years and is intended to transport crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Illinois and Oklahoma, as well as the Gulf Coast. It will pass through the state of Nebraska as part of a 291-mile expansion to provide Cushing in Oklahoma with crude oil. Cushing is a major regional oil hub.
The project has been progressing in stages since its inception in 2005. TransCanada, a major Canada-based energy company, first proposed the project in February of 2005, converting 537 miles of existing natural gas pipeline in Canada to crude oil capability, a further 232 miles of pipeline, pump stations and terminal facilities were constructed on the Canadian side, while the US part of the pipeline will be 1300 miles long.
Nebraska news media reported in 2008 that the state would be crossed by the 291 mile Cushing expansion, which is part of the greater Keystone Expansion, which aims to extend the pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Jefferson County and onto Cushing in Oklahoma and further to Port Arthur Texas.
Since these plans were revealed in Nebraska news reports, the residents of the state, especially the fourteen counties through which it will run, have been voicing their concerns over the impact the pipeline will have, but state leaders recently told Nebraska news media that they have little say in the matter as the project is a federally mandated one.
“It's a federal project, so we don’t really have any oversight,” said Senator Annette Dubas, referring to herself and the state government of Nebraska. Dubas is a member of the Nebraska Senate and, along with Senator Kate Sullivan, has been examining the public’s major concerns to do with the Nebraska expansion.
“Constituents have raised valid issues and questions,” Dubas told Nebraska news media at a press conference.
Among the concerns of residents are the effect that the construction and operation of the pipeline might have on the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground water table aquifer which is located at a shallow depth beneath the Great Plains. The land area of Nebraska all but covers the aquifer, which provides water for irrigation to the state’s farmlands and the major waterways of the region such as the Platte and Niobrara rivers, as well as the Nebraska Sand Hills, a World Wide Fund for Nature-designated eco-region.
The pipeline, which is 36 inches in diameter and will run four feet beneath the ground, will have the capacity to pump 1.1 million barrels of crude oil along its length each day when it is completed and in its final stages will have its capacity increased to 1.5 million barrels per day. Much of its length will be constructed along the length of the aquifer, which is the foundation of Nebraska’s agriculture industry.
A catastrophic failure due to an explosion and mass leakage or even smaller, undetected leaks, could cause devastating contamination to the groundwater on which the state relies, thereby collapsing one of our most important industries.
“We take this very seriously as state legislators. We want to be aware of anything that could have any impact on the aquifer,” Dubas was at pains to insist at the news conference, but with the federal government overseeing the project, the state’s authority over the use of its land is somewhat redundant.
The U.S. State Department has wrapped up a public opinion gathering exercise on the project and the final decision is now in the hands of Congress, which remains divided on the issue. A public letter to Hillary Clinton urging her to block the further construction of the pipeline pointed out the devastating impact it could have.
The letter, signed by 49 Democrat Senators in the House of Representatives, called the project “another BP oil crisis waiting to happen” and referred to a lack of safety protocols. This in regard to a decision by TransCanada to use thinner steel and a higher operating pressure than is normal on such a pipeline.
With an oil slick the size of Scotland sitting in the Gulf of Mexico, public opinion has grown against foreign corporations appearing to play fast and loose with their facilities within US borders.
But a spokesperson for the Keystone Project, Jeff Rauh, denied allegations of cutting corners on safety.
“What TransCanada has proposed for Keystone is to use stronger steel than is built into (PHMSA) regulations and use less of it, so we achieve the same strength characteristics and the same level of safety,” he said in defense of the use of thinner steel, adding that the pipeline will be designed to withstand a direct hit by the heaviest drill equipment currently in use.
He further pointed out that the construction of the pipeline was being done in a manner that went above and beyond the precautions and regulations laid down by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), such as laying it deeper to prevent penetration, a manual check of every weld along the length and the use of a corrosion prevention system.
The entire project will cost $12 billion to complete and is expected to supply the United States with 9% of its petroleum needs, as well as contribute 250,000 new jobs domestically, but while these short-term benefits are certainly substantial, the BP crisis has Nebraskans looking to the future and analyzing long-term risk assessments.
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