State Department draft says Keystone XL would have little effect on Nebraska’s water, land

August 2, 2018

LINCOLN — Construction and operation of the Keystone XL pipeline on its amended route across Nebraska would have mostly negligible to minor effects on farmland, water resources and the environment, a draft of the “mainline alternative route” has concluded.

The draft report, issued by the U.S. State Department on Monday, was viewed as good news for pipeline developer TransCanada, which is seeking to complete its 36-inch pipeline from the tar sands fields of Alberta to oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

A spokesman for the company, Matthew John, said TransCanada is reviewing the document and will provide more information to the State Department “as necessary.”

Opponents of the controversial project, meanwhile, said the Trump administration is attempting a “shortcut” to get the project built without doing legally required environmental studies.

“The Trump administration doesn’t care about water or property rights,” said Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska. “Landowners, tribal nations and everyday citizens will continue to fight the Trump administration’s illegal rubber-stamp of a permit for Keystone XL, and this illegal review.”

Lawsuits attempting to block the $8 billion project are underway in Montana and Nebraska. Oral arguments in the Nebraska case are expected as soon as October before the Nebraska Supreme Court. Meanwhile, TransCanada is still assessing whether the project is financially viable.

The State Department’s draft “environmental assessment” focused on the 162-mile detour of the pipeline ordered by the Nebraska Public Service Commission last year when it approved a Keystone XL route across the state.

The detour, known as the mainline alternative route, cuts diagonally across Antelope and Madison Counties in northeast Nebraska, then parallels the existing Keystone pipeline from Stanton County to Jefferson County.

The study concluded that the 36-inch pipeline would have negligible effects on farming and grazing operations because it would be buried at least 48 inches below the surface. Topsoil would be saved during construction and replaced, though it would take one to five years for the land to totally recover.

Operation and maintenance of the pipeline could accelerate erosion, soil compaction and productivity of crops, but the report said those effects would be “very localized” and “minor.”

Some landowners have testified that river bluffs crossed by the pipeline are prone to landslides, bringing the potential of a leak that would spread contamination miles downstream. The report said that while the pipeline would increase potential for landslides, TransCanada proposes to use “specialized pipeline installation techniques” to insulate the pipeline from minor earth movements.

Construction would bring economic benefits, the report said, including $12 million in payroll a year for two years. But it said that only 13 permanent jobs would be created.

The report said two pipeline leaks along TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline were caused by an improper weld and damage during construction, respectively, releasing 17,000 gallons and 408,000 gallons of crude oil in rural areas of South Dakota. But the releases did not affect local aquifers, the report stated.

A farmer whose land is on the pipeline route, Art Tanderup of Neligh, Nebraska, said he thinks the State Department is trying to push the project forward.

Tanderup, who donated some of his land on the route to the Ponca Indian Tribe and is a party to the Nebraska lawsuit, said soils on the pipeline path are porous in places, and he remains worried that the pipeline will leak and contaminate groundwater.

“Once those chemicals (from a pipeline spill) get in the aquifer, they cannot be cleaned up,” he said. “It’s not a good place to be running a tar sands pipeline.”

The public has until Aug. 29 to comment on the draft report.

Update hourly