Canadian pipeline hits 11th hour opposition – by Bruce Campion-Smith (Toronto Star – November 5, 2011)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion

OTTAWA—A last stand or a lost cause. Nebraska residents and their politicians are mounting an 11th hour stand against the Keystone XL pipeline, offended by the proposal to build it straight through a sensitive aquifer.

Racing against the clock, the state legislature will debate a motion in a bid to give Nebraska lawmakers the power to control the routing of the controversial pipeline. Its supporters are hoping to get it passed before the U.S. State Department issues its own ruling — promised by year’s end — whether the pipeline can be built.

“We feel that if we have a . . . law in place before the presidential permit is granted across the Canadian-U.S. border we’re on sound constitutional ground,” Nebraska state Senator Ken Haar said in an interview.

“We’ve been late getting this done but we still need to get it done.”

The $7 billion pipeline, proposed by Canadian energy company TransCanada Corp., would run 3,134 kilometres from Alberta across six states, carrying half a million barrels of oil sands crude a day to Texas refineries.

Supporters argue it will help create badly needed jobs and ensure a reliable source of oil for the United States.

Opponents, who vow to encircle the White House in a major protest Sunday, say it will spur further development of Alberta’s oil sands and boost the risk of a damaging rupture.

As the clock ticks down to a decision by the U.S. administration, a fragile area of grasslands and sand dunes known as the Nebraska Sand Hills has emerged as a pivotal battleground.

The proposed route would take the Keystone XL pipeline through the Sand Hills, which lie atop the Ogallala Aquifer. That has raised concerns that any rupture could have a disastrous impact on a key water source for drinking and irrigation.

“Whether you’re for the pipeline or against the pipeline, almost everyone in our state agrees it’s a really bad choice of routes,” John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, said in an interview from Lincoln.

Hansen wrote the U.S. government last month, saying the pipeline route is “not prudent, not safe and unnecessarily puts our primary water supply at risk.”

In an interview, he said the moves by the state legislature are a last chance to influence where the pipeline is built.

“It is better late than never . . . We’re talking about the placement of a pipeline that will operate for 75 to 100 years,” Hansen said.

Haar agrees that the project has struck a sensitive chord in Nebraska because the main industry is agriculture.

“People are pretty much aware that water is our most important resource. This whole idea that we would be risking — even if the chances are small — our clean water source doesn’t make sense to Nebraskans,” he said.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman — who has urged Washington to reject the pipeline proposal — called a special session of the state legislature to debate legislation around the Keystone project. Several motions regarding the proposal will be debated by state politicians next week.

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