Nebraska’s future impact on the Keystone XL pipeline
The Keystone XL pipeline has served as a centerpiece of national attention and the pinnacle point of creating awareness surrounding the clean energy initiative.
It’s been nearly a decade now since the Keystone XL (KXL) project was introduced, and since, denied by the Obama administration on November 6, 2015. Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska tells me, “Nebraska was TransCanada’s Achilles heel from day one.”
Climate change has been an ongoing crisis since before TransCanada’s original proposal to build the KXL pipeline. In fact, President Obama has already approved the first and second phases of the Keystone pipeline system and it’s in operation today. But the root of the problem seems to lie with America’s energy consumption. As Kleeb puts it:
“You can’t keep building infrastructures that are going to lock us into energy of the past for the next sixty years, which is exactly what this pipeline would’ve done.” – Jane Kleeb
In other words, ice caps are melting, yet we’re trying to build energy systems that would only fuel the fire. In 2010, TransCanada’s KXL proposal caught the attention of one of the leading organizations in opposition to the project, Bold Nebraska. I spoke with Jane Kleeb about the future of this project in the interview that follows.
What was Bold Nebraska’s key role in stopping the pipeline?
Kleeb: “For Bold Nebraska, we were fighting it specifically for our land and water, but I think we also offered a platform for citizens to stand on in order to show their power. It was giving a megaphone to those that were on the proposed route, or as I like to call it – rejected route, and also to citizens, young people, moms, grandmas, dads, who had broader concerns about this pipeline coming through our state, which is all about agriculture.”
I know Obama’s decision doesn’t permanently stop the pipeline, what do you think will?
Kleeb: “There was actually good news on Sunday (November, 22 2015), the new leader of Alberta, Canada just set out her new energy and climate policy, which means they are putting a price on carbon, putting a cap on how much tar sands can be expanded, plus a lot of other really strong climate and water regulations. So I really do think the sun is setting on tar sands, it’s such an expensive form of oil to produce; it requires so much energy and water, which is why it’s so expensive, and of course one of the leading carbon producing forms of oil.”
“I think people in DC saw this big picture strategy of how one pipeline could really start to take down the tar sands industry.”
What risks are involved with railcar transport?
Kleeb: “It’s frustrating when we hear people who support fossil fuels say: well if you don’t go by pipeline we’ll go by railroad. There is more oil going by railroad, but that’s American oil, this pipeline was about tar sands oil, and tar sands can’t go by rail for a couple reasons.
One, it’s very expensive, it’s only profitable when oil sells for anywhere from $80 to $120 dollars per barrel and there’s no way that a tar sands company could make money because rail adds about $10 to $20 dollars per barrel. So from a pure economic standpoint it’s not happening. Secondly, there are not rail terminals from Alberta to the export market, so the infrastructure is not there. Third, in order to transport tar sands oil, it’s so thick that you have to have heated tank cars, so they would have to build these special heated tank cars. So the people saying this know it’s dishonest, but they know it’s a great talking point.”
I also spoke with Mark Cooper, TransCanada’s Senior lead of Media Relations, to get their perspective about the future of the project.
What would you say the biggest factor is that lead to the denial of the Keystone XL permit?
Cooper: “If I actually had a clue of any kind of rational reasoning to why that permit was denied, I’d be in a lot better position than I am right now in terms of how I feel about that. This project was studied extensively by the U.S. State Dept. and Nebraska’s Dept. of Environmental Quality. It was clearly determined that this was the choice of reason environmentally, economically, and geo-politically. It’s the safest way to transport needed crude oil to Americans. Ultimately it would make Americans less reliant on oil from the Middle East and places like Venezuela.
“It clearly passed the President’s climate test in all of the studies, where they determined that it would not significantly impact green house gas emissions. In fact, by not allowing it, it requires more intensive forms of oil transportation such as rail to take its place.”
So when you ask me what the main factors were, you know I think we had strong support from Governments in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska. And thanks to Governor, Ricketts, who supported the project and continues to support the project in hopes that we re-apply for the project. It had the support of majority of land owners that we worked with.
So to answer your question, I’d feel a lot better about this if there was rational to determine that it wasn’t in the interest of the United States. Clearly with all of the information that we have, it will.”
As far as rail car transport, is there an infrastructure in place to deliver the oil in this way?
Cooper: “Well, you know, we’re not currently right in the rail business, but it is something that we are exploring as a complimentary way to perhaps look at shipping crude oil through smaller distances. But I think what many of your readers probably may not know is that TransCanada has successfully been operating a crude oil pipeline since 2010, the original Keystone pipeline from Canada through Nebraska and we now have shipped 1.1 billion barrels safely and successfully through Nebraska to American refineries in the Midwest and in the Gulf Coast. So,
“oil is going to get to market, but by far the safest and most environmentally sound way, is by pipeline.”
What do you think led to the landowners that did file suit against the TransCanada?
Cooper: “We’ve negotiated fairly and voluntarily with 91% of landowners in Nebraska. There are some that I think have some genuine concerns of their own that have been brought on, or perhaps emphasized, by some of the activist groups that are working in the state to, for lack of a better phrase, whip them up. The fact of matter is that TransCanada does recognize that for many of these landowners they do have legitimate fears and it’s our job to try and demonstrate to them the chance of a spill or anything that would impact their land is extremely remote, by the number of safety measures that we have along our pipeline. Nonetheless, those feelings that they have are real feelings, I think that the activist groups have done a good job on making it sound like more than just a vocal minority of people are opposing the project, when in fact public opinion polling throughout the U.S., including Nebraska, continues to show very strong support for the project.
“Most the people in the states see it as, not as win for the environmentalists, but a loss for the safest and most environmentally sound way to transport oil.”
And a loss to the some 45,000 jobs in Nebraska during the 2 year construction that would take place, and certainly a loss of the property taxes that will help the counties in the state.”
How does this financially impact TransCanada?
Cooper: “We’ve spent about $2.4 billion dollars on the project already, through all the various regulatory processes, the pipe that we manufactured, various storage, and a number of other areas.
“However, make no mistake, we haven’t by any stretch of the imagination given up on Keystone XL.”
It’s the last part of our Keystone system that is a very strong piece of modern American infrastructure. We are keeping all of our options open of what we might do in terms of our next steps, whether or not that could possibly be re-applying for another permit.”