Down The Tubes
November 17, 2015
The arguments for and against the Keystone XL Pipeline may have subsided due to President Obama's decision to deny the application ten days ago, but they aren't over.
For landowners in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, where the XL pipeline would be built, the uncertainty goes on: will the next president, after the November 2016 election, sign the federal permit, allowing TransCanada to build the pipeline, or will the application continue to be denied?
The strongest arguments against the pipeline were about groundwater contamination, with the fear that if the pipeline would ever leak, it would ruin underground water and the environment.
For Winner, South Dakota, rancher John Harter, it was a real threat.
The XL pipeline was to cross his ranch four miles west of Colome, on the land where he grew up at and where the water table, in places, sits just below the ground level. "The majority of my property sits on the Ogallala Aquifer," he said. "It's a wetlands area and it's sub-irrigated."
But it wasn't only the environmental concerns that angered Harter, who is against the building of the XL pipeline. "The business side of it, is that (TransCanada) is cheating every farmer and rancher, every landowner they're crossing," he said.
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Their original offer to Harter was $13,300 for a permanent easement, and he figures that if the pipeline lasts for fifty years (it's estimated lifetime is forty to 100 years) and carries the 830,000 barrels a day it's estimated it will carry, property owners will make a dollar day. "It's not a good business deal."
TransCanada consulted with Harter on the initial route of the pipeline, but they changed the route three more times, each time without his consent. The third time, the route was set near a dugout – a watering hole for cattle where the water table comes up. Ironically, Harter referenced the television show "The Beverly Hillbillies" in talking about the water table on his ranch. "Remember how Jeb finds the oil coming up through the ground? That's what we have with our water."
It wasn't just the possibility of leaking that made Harter upset. He refused to sign the easement, because the city of Winner had two water wells on his property, and TransCanada wasn't putting any safety precautions in that area. According to Harter, TransCanada threatened to take away his group easement, which had been negotiated to get a better deal. He refused to sign an easement that wasn't in his best interest, so TransCanada threatened to take him to court on the basis of eminent domain. They settled out of court. "They pushed me into a settlement," Harter said. It was either "make the settlement in court or out of court. Now they're trying to say they didn't file eminent domain on me which is bull—-."
In Nebraska, two farmers are in favor of the pipeline, one with a current TransCanada pipeline across his property, and the other with an easement for the XL pipeline.
Keith Peterson, Osceola, signed an easement. "I was very pleased with how it came up, with their way of compensation. If and when it is built, it will go across my property."
He thinks the pipeline has few disadvantages. "I think it's a positive way to move the product. It's been proven without a reasonable doubt that it's the safest and cheapest way to move (crude oil.)"
The Keystone Pipeline (not the XL) came through Seward County, southeast of Osceola, in 2009, and Peterson saw the farm ground after it was installed. "The way they restore the ground, I do not see any lack of production, and, in my opinion, no long term reduction of production with the pipeline in the ground."
He also thinks that pipeline leaks aren't likely. "There are certainly possibilities of leaks with the amount of pressure in any pipeline, but I offset that with the fact that they are moving that product by rail and once in a while cars derail. There's going to be risk no matter how they transport it. My opinion is the risk is minimal through a pipeline, long term."
Peterson lives two miles from where his grandfather homesteaded in 1871; his parents began farming where he now lives in 1948, and he and his wife Jane took over the farm in 1985.
Seward County, Neb. landowner Doug Zimmerman has the 2009 Keystone Pipeline running through his property, and has no problem with it. The advancements in technology make the XL safe, he thinks. The XL line will have leak detections and pumping stations that can be shut off at the first sign of a leak. "The technology today is better than it was fifty years ago," he said, and he points out that the current pipeline has had no leaks.
He also wants the United States to be less dependent on foreign oil imports. "I want the United States to not be buying foreign oil," he said. "Why shouldn't we be utilizing our trade partners to the north, Canada, to feed our refineries with crude oil. We ought to be getting off of foreign oil. Most of those people in the Middle East don't like us anyway."
Peterson agrees. "Any energy source we can utilize in the United States keeps us less dependent on the Middle East is a good thing. It will help keep, in my opinion, everybody's energy costs down, and that's also important to me."
Zimmerman says TransCanada has been good to work with. "TransCanada has left the land in better shape than they found it," he said. "Anytime we had problems, or needed something, all you had to do was ask and there was somebody here the next day, finding what the problem was. They're a very good company to work with. I've never had any problems with them, whatsoever."
Zimmerman thinks the only reason the pipeline application was denied was political. "It's strictly politics. If (President Obama) knew he wasn't going to pass it in the first place, he should have said it and saved seven years of work."
In an official statement released by TransCanada on November 6, the company expressed disappointment with "the President's decision to deny the Keystone XL application…. Today's decision deals a damaging blow to jobs, the economy and the environment on both sides of the border." TransCanada senior advisor for community relations Rob Latimer said that one hundred percent of the landowners in South Dakota and Montana have been acquired with easements in place; 91 percent of the Nebraska landowners have been secured, and TransCanada is "considering our options," he said. Easements stay in place, regardless of project status, Latimer said, "per the terms and conditions in those documents and the landowners keep all funds paid for those easements."