TOPEKA – Environmentalists and union members, usually allied under the Democratic Party, have turned into opponents at State Department public hearings on construction of a second Keystone oil pipeline, the Keystone XL.
If approved, the pipeline will join the existing Keystone pipeline in bringing oil from Athabasca Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada, to U.S. refineries as far away as the coast of Texas.
Environmentalists oppose the new pipeline and cite greater environmental risks from extracting, transporting and refining the tar sands oil.
Union members and other proponents say the pipeline and the oil it carries will keep dollars out of the hands of America’s enemies, create tens of thousands of jobs and help fuel an economic recovery.
David Barnett, a union employee from Tulsa, told KansasWatchdog.org during Monday’s hearing, “I’m an environmentalist, but I’m a balanced environmentalist. I’m not an environmental extremist.”
The National Cooperative Refinery Association in McPherson currently refines tar sands oil delivered by the existing pipeline.
The pipeline needs State Department approval to proceed because it crosses a U.S. border. President George W. Bush approved the first Keystone pipeline in 2008.
Eight Kansas elected officials spoke in favor of the pipeline. Gov. Sam Brownback told two State Department employees overseeing the hearing that he’s a supporter of an “all of the above” approach to meeting America’s energy needs. He said he supports bio-fuels and wind, “But for the foreseeable future we’re going to need oil.”
Concerns over the nature of the tar sands oil prompted 57 special conditions on construction of the pipeline in addition to the usual precautions. An environmental impact report released by the State Department in August said routing the XL pipeline through the Sandhills of Nebraska and over the Ogallala Aquifer is the most economically feasible, and would be unlikely to have significant environmental impacts.
Fear of contaminating the aquifer is central to opposition to the pipeline.
Rabbi Moti Reiber of Overland Park was first to address the hearing after elected officials spoke. “I consider this project to be a direct threat to Kansas’ natural beauty, to our water and food supply, to the possibility of a clean energy future and to the stability of the world’s climate,” Reiber said.
Reiber and several other pipeline opponents represented Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, a group engaging faith communities in responding to issues of climate and energy.
James Hawley, a Presbyterian minister from Salina, said, “We should not allow this pipeline to feed another 50 years of global oil addiction.”
Lois Harder from Wichita, also representing Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, cited the higher levels of pollutants produced during refining of dirtier tar sands oil.
Danny Hendrix, business manager of Pipeliners Local 798, lives in Tulsa. He said members of his union helped build the existing portion of the Keystone pipeline and many other large pipeline projects.
“All of these projects, all of them, met with the same opposition and many of the same what ifs,” Hendrix said. “All of these mega projects involved geographical obstacles and challenges thought to be insurmountable to the naysayers. But, through proper planning and advanced engineering, today they all lay quietly in the ground performing as a conduit of energy for America’s needs.”
Hendrix and other proponents of the pipeline also raised national security. “To me, personally, the most important issue is who we purchase oil from. We must stop the transfer of wealth from this country to OPEC countries.”
“We will continue to buy oil for years to come; to think otherwise is foolish, but from what country?”
No elected officials spoke in opposition to building the pipeline, but Rep. Charlotte O’Hara, R-Overland Park, did say the 10-year, 100 percent property tax abatement granted for the existing Keystone pipeline is problematic. “When you start playing crony capitalism and giving these types of tax abatements it becomes a problem.”
Topeka police told Kansas Watchdog there were no incidents during the hearing or a small protest march held outside the Kansas Expo Center.
Pipeline has a big stake in Kansas (zwire.com)
Bottlenecks continue for TransCanada Keystone Pipeline (dailytribune.net)