Publicly divided over pipeline


September 27th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – Hundreds of people for and against the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline attended a rowdy public hearing in Lincoln on Tuesday.

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As the late morning sun shone down on people lined up to get into the meeting, those on both sides of the issue warmed up their vocal chords too. Chants of “Pipeline, say no!” intermingled with yells of, “Pipeline, say yes!”

Supporters and opponents were evenly split, and equally vocal, at a public hearing on the Keystone pipeline Tuesday. (Photo by Perry Stoner, NET News)

Cheers started by one side were sometimes finished by the other outside Lincoln’s Pershing Auditorium. When the doors opened and the action moved inside, the result was more orderly, but no less divided. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Nebraska.

Supporters like Roma Amundsen, a retired brigadier general with the Nebraska Army National Guard, said the project would be better for national security than relying on imports from countries like Venezuela or Saudi Arabia.

“If our national policy continues to be one that restricts our own national energy production, we need to rely upon friendly and reliable sources such as Canada to get the oil needed by the United States,” she said. “Our energy security would be considerably strengthened by having the Keystone pipeline, as would our industrial base.”

On the other side, opponents like Wayne Frost, a rancher from near St. Paul, Neb., voiced fears about what could happen to water in eastern Nebraska if chemicals used to dilute the oil leaked into the Ogallala Aquifer.

“The basic water that runs down all them creeks and rivers is water that is spring-fed from the Ogallala Aquifer,” he said. “And that needs to be taken into account. People say it don’t move – it does move. And if it spills these chemically-laden oils that come down from Canada, them chemicals will be in that water, and it’ll mix in that water just as fast as your cream and sugar will mix in your coffee.”

In addition to security and the environment, another concern voiced at the meeting was jobs. Ron Kaminski is business manager of the Laborers International Union local 1140 in Nebraska. He defended TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, saying union members had had a good experience building its previous Keystone pipeline farther east in Nebraska.

Opponents of the Keystone pipeline rallied outside the Pershing Center in Lincoln. (Photo by Perry Stoner, NET News)

“TransCanada has stood by their joint labor agreement to provide members with great jobs, with a great hourly wage, not only health insurance for employees on the project, but for their families, and a pension to look forward to when they retire,” he said.

Some opponents questioned the fairness of the State Department’s process in evaluating the proposal.

“Each day we learn more about the State Department’s hiring of Entrix – an oil industry-backed consulting firm who conducted the independent environmental study for the XL pipeline,” said Britton Bailey of Lincoln. “This is a great concern for Nebraskans, and leaves a bitter, oily taste in our mouths.”

Twelve-year-old Della Wilson of Bellevue cast the decision in terms of its impact on her generation.

“Oil and jobs are important,” she said. “But they are not required to sustain life. Clean water is. Don’t sacrifice it and cause me and my generation to have to bear the consequences in the future and join the billions of others who are struggling to find safe water.”

Pipeline supporter Cheryl Miller of Merrick County said that reminded her of concerns when she was growing up in Kimball.

“I was 12 years old when the missile silos came to western Nebraska,” she said. “And the scare was just like this. We’re going to blow up. We’re going to lose the western end of the state. So I kind of see some of the fear thing going on here.”

The hearing was one of eight being held in states along the proposed pipeline route. The second and last meeting scheduled for Nebraska will be held in Atkinson at West Holt High School on Thursday, Sept. 29, beginning at 4:30 p.m.

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