Keystone XL still waiting after six years

Farm Forum

STEELE CITY, Neb. —Six years have passed since TransCanada first tendered an application to lay 1,179 miles of pipe, 36 inches in diameter, that would connect oil producers in Canada’s tar sands region with refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

In marking the anniversary Sept. 19, the company accused anti-oil activists of having hijacked the regulatory process, miring the project in governmental bureaucracy.

“Since 2008, almost 10,000 miles of oil pipelines have been constructed in the United States — the equivalent of eight Keystone XL pipelines,” TransCanada President of Development Alex Pourbaix said in a news release. “And yet our project sits idle, all while the U.S. continues to import seven to eight million barrels of foreign oil each day from some countries that do not respect our collective values or the rule of law.”

It took TransCanada just 23 months to get approval from President George W. Bush to build its first Keystone pipeline, which also goes through Nebraska and began moving oil in June 2010.

While the company and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce touted a trip dubbed the “Keystone XL Pipeline Lost Opportunity Tour,” Bold Nebraska leader Jane Kleeb celebrated the passage of six years.

“Happy anniversary of keeping 76 billion gallons of tar sands out of our Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer,” she said in an email to supporters.

As volleys of rhetoric flew across fields of social media on Sept. 19, Nebraska farmer Eldean Banahan stood on a gravel drive leading to the pumping station for TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline near the Nebraska-Kansas border just east of Steele City.

At 84, he has lived his entire life within a mile and a half of that spot, and he had nothing bad to say about TransCanada.

“I lived there. And went to school there,” he said pointing across part of the 156 acres he sold to TransCanada for both pipelines.

Banahan said he built a new house along the Little Blue River after selling his land, and the company has treated him well.

TransCanada employees even gave his truck a jump start on Sept. 19 when it failed to start after he and 20 other people toured the pumping station as part of the last stop on a three-state promotional event for the Keystone XL project put on by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.

The chamber’s message found fertile ground with the farmer, who thinks the Keystone XL should be built.

“We need the taxes. We need the jobs. And we need the oil,” he said.

If President Barack Obama gives the thumbs-up needed to build across an international border, TransCanada plans to end the northern leg of the Keystone XL and connect it to existing pipes on land Banahan used to farm.

But the federal permitting process is on hold while the Nebraska Supreme Court reviews a constitutional challenge to the law that let Gov. Dave Heineman green-light the Keystone XL path through the state. State Supreme Court watchers expect the seven judges to issue a ruling sometime after the November election.

The Chamber tour made about four stops in each state the pipeline would pass through — Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, said Matt Koch, a U.S. Chamber vice president.

Pipeline opponents criticized the Chamber for holding only small, tightly controlled events. The last stop at the pumping station was the only event open to the public, and it was open only because of a miscommunication between a TransCanada employee and the Fairbury Journal-News.

“We have a cold, tar-sands-free beer waiting for the Chamber and all their front groups if they would like to come take a tour of what’s really at stake along the pipeline route,” Kleeb said earlier this month when the Chamber announced the tour. “Bold Nebraska and allies in South Dakota are happy to take members of the Chamber to the Rosebud Sioux Spirit Camp, Build Our Energy Barn, Sandhills, Ponca Sacred Corn and the scenic Niobrara River, all of which are on the proposed Keystone XL route.”

Koch said that wasn’t the point of the tour.

“In this tour we’re talking to supporters,” Koch said. “We’re talking to businesspeople, to economic development people from chambers of commerce, to hear their stories, to talk about the opportunities being missed for them.”

He said he’s used social media to spread the stories he heard on the tour and will take them back to Washington, D.C., where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week promised a vote on the Keystone XL if Republicans win a controlling majority in the November midterm election.

A study done by the U.S. State Department found the project would create 3,900 full-time construction jobs if built in one year and 1,950 jobs if built over two years. Once complete, the pipeline would support about 50 permanent positions, including 15 contractors.

TransCanada’s most recent tally of the price tag for the pipeline, designed to move up to 830,000 barrels of oil a day, is $5.4 billion, but officials have said it could be much higher due to delays.

The company more than doubled the expected cost of the South Dakota portion of the Keystone XL to $1.974 billion in a petition it filed on Sept. 15 with a state commission to renew its expired construction permit there.

Prices for the rest of the pipeline path have not been updated.