Keystone Pipeline: How it stands to affect NE ag, landowners | TSLN.com

Keystone Pipeline: How it stands to affect NE ag, landowners

Loretta Sorensen
for Tri-State Livestock News

It isn't just the idea of allowing a company to obtain easement for a pipeline that's stirring up some Nebraska land owners and non-profit organizations. Farmers and ranchers like Abbi Kleinschmidt and James Tarnick are more than unhappy with the terms of the Keystone XL lease and the nonchalant manner in which TransCanada (TC) and Nebraska state officials are dismissing the impact of potential environmental hazards.

"Nebraska's biggest industry is farming and ranching," Tarnick said. "Why are we so willing to put that industry at risk?"

Tarnick, who was notified of the latest pipeline route plan in 2012, has declined to negotiate an easement agreement with TC, partly because he's waiting for a ruling on Nebraska's LB1161 which the Nebraska legislature passed in 2012. The bill states that, in effect, the State of Nebraska can declare eminent domain and place the pipeline on private property without landowners' consent. The bill has been challenged as unconstitutional. Its validity will be ruled on later in 2013.

Kleinschmidt, whose family farm now lies in the path of the most recently proposed pipeline route, has not yet received an easement offer from TC. Both Tarnick and Kleinschmidt question the need for the requested easement to be in effect for perpetuity. TC has told landowners that the tar sand oil it intends to move through the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to be exhausted within the next 40 years.

“If there’s any kind of Act of God – tornado, flood, earthquake – the current easement agreement states that landowners are responsible for damages to the pipeline. How can a $3 trillion dollar company expect individual people to take on liability issues like that?”
James Tarnick, landowner

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"How do we know they won't pipe something more environmentally hazardous through this same line once the tar sand oil resources run out," Kleinschmidt said. "They could sell it to another company and we have nothing to say about how it's used."

Kleinschmidt, Tarnick and other Nebraska residents are also deeply unhappy about the liability issues landowners are saddled with by the current easement terms.

"If there's any kind of Act of God – tornado, flood, earthquake – the current easement agreement states that landowners are responsible for damages to the pipeline," Tarnick claimed. "How can a $3 trillion dollar company expect individual people to take on liability issues like that?"

The easement also states that landowners are responsible for pipeline damage if they use "heavy" equipment to move over the pipeline.

"Is a combine heavy equipment?" Kleinschmidt asked. "The steel pipe is only buried four feet deep. No one really knows how many problems there could be with leaking issues."

Because her brother-in-law's property was in the path of the first Keystone XL pipeline plan, she learned firsthand what kind of pressure TC put on landowners and how differently they have responded to and worked with different land owners.

"My brother-in-law was offered twice as much as his neighbors if he'd sign the easement," Kleinschmidt said. "We've been told that offers vary pretty significantly from person to person. Fortunately for us, between the time they first contacted him and then changed the pipeline route, we learned about organizations like Bold Nebraska and the efforts of NEAT (Nebraska Easement Action Team) to help landowners negotiate better easement agreements."

The current pipeline route takes the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska's sandhills, which encompasses 19,600 square miles of central and northern Nebraska. The area is comprised of wild prairie, which is considered a rare American asset.

The pipeline would also run in proximity to the Ogallala aquifer, which covers an area of the High Plains that is larger than the state of California. The aquifer provides 78 percent of water used by Nebraskans.

From the outset, landowners along the Keystone XL pipeline route have raised concerns about potential for environmental pollution due to pipeline spills. In October 2012, Canada's federal energy industry regulator announced an investigation of TC's "safety culture," auditing company records to review compliance with industry rules, noting that "the auditor is going to probe into the safety and loss management system of the company … where he will be able to detect to what level they have an adequate healthy safety culture."

The "whistle blower" inside TransCanada, Evan Vokes, who alerted the Canadian energy industry to safety concerns was honored with an national award in March 2013, did unearth noncompliance with regulations as well as internal management systems and procedures concerns.

The existing Keystone pipeline in eastern Nebraska has leaked more than a dozen times since TC began using it in 2010. The majority of spills were less than 100 gallons. However, one spill at a North Dakota pump station was 20,000 gallons. Safety systems used in projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline detect the percentage of oil that doesn't reach its destination. The pipeline will transport diluted bitumen – an extra thick grade of crude oil. Little research data about the product is available.

"The other aspect of the project that is so frustrating is that this crude oil won't be used in America," Kleinschmidt said. "This oil will go on the world market and could even cause our gas prices to increase. Why should we take on all this liability and risk for a foreign consumer?"

Tarnick says he's not just frustrated by TransCanada's actions and what he sees as their effort to sweep pipeline facts under the rug. He's also disappointed in Nebraska officials who seem more interested in appeasing TransCanada than watching out for the interests of Nebraska residents.

"It seems like landowners have been sold out for pennies," Tarnick said. "If we contaminate the Ogallala aquifer, we're done. We can't irrigate land to raise crops, risk our pastures we use to produce beef. If farmers go out of business, that affects all the ag-related business in the state. Why hasn't there been a more thorough risk analysis of this project? Why do they want to rush into this and not review every aspect of it first?"

Kleinschmidt and Tarnick are among the Nebraska landowners urging citizens from the region to voice their concerns and thoughts about the pipeline to legislators. They're also asking others to help educate the general public about the realities of the pipeline project.

"When they put the first pipeline in eastern Nebraska, it's as if everyone was asleep," Kleinschmidt said. "It didn't affect us so we didn't pay attention. There are landowners who signed TransCanada's lease. They have taken on great liability and risk. We want to make sure that kind of thing doesn't happen in our state again. This is a great time for our country to turn the corner in terms of environmental protection. We all need to speak up and voice our opinion and make sure the things we agree to are truly good for America."