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Heineman To Obama: Deny Pipeline Permit

By   /   August 31, 2011  /   News  /   21 Comments

Update: Governor Heineman’s announcement sparked reaction on several fronts including Heineman’s political friends, foes, and the company which wants to build the pipeline. (See updated information in red below).

In an unexpected move Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) today (Wednesday) urged President Barack Obama to put TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline on hold.

Officials with TransCanada say the governor’s decision caught them completely off-guard. Company spokesman Jeff Rauh tells KFAB radio he doesn’t “have a feel” for Heineman’s move but added that TransCanada looks forward to talking with the governor.

Heineman, who says he is not opposed to pipelines, worries the XL’s proposed route through Nebraska’s Sandhills will put the Ogallala Aquifer at risk. Heineman’s decision—asking the President to deny TransCanada’s permit—comes five days after the U.S. State Department issued its final Environmental Impact Study backing  the pipeline as is.

In a letter (see full text below) to the President, Heineman writes:

“I am opposed to the proposed route of this pipeline. The Final Environmental Impact Statement compares a potential spill in the Sand Hills region to a 1979 Bemidji, Minnesota spill and concludes that ‘the impacts to shallow groundwater from a spill of a similar volume in the Sand Hills region would affect a limited area of the aquifer around the spill site.’  I disagree with this analysis, and I believe that the pipeline should not cross a substantial portion of the Ogallala Aquifer.”

Following Heineman’s announcement Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska, a conservative group which is usually in agreement with the governor, came out against Heineman’s decision. In a brief statement Nebraska Director Mike Friend said the XL pipeline will create thousands of jobs and keep the oil from winding up in countries like China. “If we don’t build this pipeline, another country will,” said Friend.

For the last several months Nebraska’s two U.S. Senators, Democrat Ben Nelson and Republican Mike Johanns, have raised serious questions about the XL’s proposed route. Both are concerned a leak could harm the Aquifer which provides much of Nebraska’s farming and drinking water.

Shortly after Heineman’s letter was released Johanns issued a statement backing Heineman’s request and then doubled down on the President. According to Johanns, “Amid much discussion about authorities, one thing is irrefutable and that is the State Department’s authority to approve or reject TransCanada’s current permit application.”

Despite plenty of criticism Heineman has argued for several months that the governor does not have the power to stop the pipeline.

One of those critics, Senator Nelson, says Heineman’s letter to the President should not be the governor’s last move. “I wrote to the State Department a year ago urging them to seek comment and analysis from the state. Clearly, the state has the authority and responsibility to determine the route of the pipeline through Nebraska,” said Nelson. “If the governor doesn’t like the route he has the power to change it.”

Reported by Joe Jordan, joe@nebraskawatchdog.org

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Governor Heineman’s letter:

Dear President Obama and Secretary Clinton:

I am writing to you today regarding a very important issue to the State of Nebraska and to our citizens- the Keystone XL Pipeline.  I am opposed to the proposed route of this pipeline.  The Final Environmental Impact Statement compares a potential spill in the Sand Hills region to a 1979 Bemidji, Minnesota spill and concludes that “the impacts to shallow groundwater from a spill of a similar volume in the Sand Hills region would affect a limited area of the aquifer around the spill site.”   I disagree with this analysis, and I believe that the pipeline should not cross a substantial portion of the Ogallala Aquifer. 

Of the current proposed route, 254 miles of the pipeline would come through Nebraska and be situated directly over the Ogallala Aquifer.  The aquifer provides water to farmers and ranchers of Nebraska to raise livestock and grow crops.  Nebraska has 92,685 registered, active irrigation wells supplying water to over 8.5 million acres of harvested cropland and pasture. Forty-six percent of the total cropland harvested during 2007 was irrigated. Maintaining and protecting Nebraska’s water supply is very important to me and the residents of Nebraska.  This resource is the lifeblood of Nebraska’s agriculture industry. Cash receipts from farm markets contribute over $17 billion to Nebraska’s economy annually.  I am concerned that the proposed pipeline will potentially have detrimental effects on this valuable natural resource and Nebraska’s economy. 

I want to emphasize that I am not opposed to pipelines.  We already have hundreds of them in our state.  I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer.

Therefore, I am asking you to disapprove TransCanada’s pending permit request. Do not allow TransCanada to build a pipeline over the Ogallala Aquifer and risk the potential damage to Nebraska’s water.  Thank you for your consideration of this matter.  




Joe formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Floyd Rhodes

    Well, finally.

    Thank you Governor

  • http://Boodogmom@aol.com Joan

    Thank you Governor Heineman for hearing both the Democrats and Republicans of Nebraska!

  • Dirt

    Governor Dave is not my favorite governor we’ve had, but I’m glad that he finally came out and took a stand on one side or the other. I’ve been sick and tired of his absenteeism on this issue.

  • John Atkeison

    Like I said elsewhere, “I think he is setting up a trap for 2012. Now Republicans can say, “WE were the environmentalists!” They are a sack of crap, of course … but mere honesty did not stop George Bush from running on regulating CO2 in the 2000 elections, either!”

  • Patrick

    He’s a moron. He’ll change his mind when the Canadians give him more money. Phoney piece of garbage, totally gutless wimp. Let’s add flip-flopper now too.

  • Karen

    I am very thankful for a strong, pro-active stance from the Governor! The best thing about it is it’s not too late. I do believe, however, that he has authority to route pipelines. Somehow other states have done it & whoever does these shallow environmental impact statements say that he does. So lets do it!

  • Omaha Realist

    Not terribly surprising here folks – Dave has quite a history of changing positions when he senses the winds changing direction… not all bad I guess – he IS elected to serve the people of Nebraska, so adjusting his position to mirror the wishes of the people has some merit. I DO think however that he should have taken a stand earlier.

  • Danielle

    I’m supportive of his decision. I want the pipeline, but not through the Aquifer. I know the reports say the risk of contamination is minimal, but I prefer to see a zero risk to something so important. Besides, if it goes through the eastern part, adding miles, doesn’t that add more jobs or longevity to the jobs (since most are temporary anyway?)

  • Drew

    The liberal left has mislead the people about the aquifer. You have to drill to get to it.

  • Husker Fan

    If ppl want this pipeline, I suggest they let the Governor know……now is the time for the citizens of Nebraska to speak up. It will create jobs and keep oil in our country.

  • http://Boodogmom@aol.com Joan

    Drew, ignorance is bliss, isn’t it!

  • J

    Some people have their heads stuck in the sand – well, I guess that way they can more easily taste the oil when the pipeline leaks…

  • Prairie Dog

    @Drew: Spilling oil on the ground above the aquifer will not pollute the water under the ground? Maybe not, if the clean-up crew start digging faster than the spilled oil is seeping into the ground. Be assured, Drew, “impervious” rock is simply less porous than its porous cousin.

  • Prairie Dog

    On the politics of the issue, I thought the Republican Party was big on States’ Rights. Doesn’t that at least imply that a state has the right to regulate utilities within its boundaries? Look at California, she regulates everything and hasn’t been kicked out of the Union yet.

  • Rock

    @PrairieDog – look where California is at with all their regulations – in the red.

    I hope all of you are so against the pipeline are ready to pay 5+/gallon for gas. We have to get away from buying from the unreliable OPEC. There is no reason why gas is over 1/gallon plus taxes. We need to become energy independent. We have over 150 years worth of gas in the US or right off our shores if only the environmentalists didn’t have a stranglehold on drilling.


    The answer to achieving our long-term independence from mideast crude oil imports is our own 150 year natural gas supply in theU.S.

    Compressed natural gas powered vehicles are available now.The main

    problem is that they currently cost more,and commercial fueling stations are in short supply.

    IYou can install an “extended fill” CNG system in your own home for use for localized driving(300 mile radius),and the cost per eqiivalent gallon is about 1/2 that of gasoline or diesel.

    MUD has beeen active in developing use of CNG in vehicles and for more information simply contact their marketing department.

    (The in-home CNG compressors can be moved if you change from one residence to another.)

  • Michael

    I’m very disappointed in Governor Heineman. Considering the facts, that studies show the pipeline would be safe and the economic benefits far outweigh the risks, he’s decided to knuckle under to the ecofreaks.

  • Snap

    More jobs? Are you kidding? Maybe there will be temporary jobs or increase of sales in a certain area while the pipeline is being built but chances are Keystone will bring in their own people as they are experienced in this type of work. Can you imagine the work load it would take Keystone to review potential resumes for local workers when they have crews? Remember time is money. Once the pipeline is in, Keystone will be gone. At best, they will have a skeleton crew strategically placed but thousands of jobs, only if you meant over the life of the project? Did anyone ask what types of jobs would be increased? Are you sure they are in American even?

    Remember folks, this is a Canadian company that said ‘nope’ to the question about shifting their pipeline to avoid the aquifer. Do you remember that they won’t even discuss double piping the pipeline because it’s too expensive? Do you remember that the project starts in Canada and ends at the coast, do you really think the US is going to see much of those resources? Nope

    What does Keystone care anyways? It’s not their country or their resources. It is up to us to protect our country. I don’t blame them for trying, I do blame those that would allow it for a few $$ in their pocket.

  • Watching From Lincoln


    That is straight out of an internal memo from TransCanada! The XL WILL bypass the midwest refineries that the Keystone 1 currently services, taking the oil the Keystone 1 transports and re-routing it to Texas.

    I will say this as bluntly as possible: People who spout off about the Keystone XL bringing lots of jobs, lowering gas prices, or not contaminating the Ogallala Aquifer are either terribly ignorant or paid stooges.

    @Snap: You are dead one right. When the Keystone 1 was built, virtually all the crews came up from Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Nebraskans were hired only for menial grunt work or to hold survey flags. I talked with one of the site engineers for the Keystone 1 two falls ago while they were building near York, and that’s what he told me. All the out of state license plates from those states on all the vehicles and personal pick ups confirmed it. Same with the repair personnel that have been coming up here to chase down underground leaks.

    @Drew: Not just ignorant, you are a moron! (as are Michael, Danny, Rock and Husker Fan) Have you ever been out to the Sandhills in your life? The route where the XL is proposed to run is IN the recharge zone of the Aquifer, the Ogallala Aquifer intersects the surface thousands of times in the Sandhills, where do you think the water for every spring, wetland, lake and river in the Sandhills comes from? The XL will be buried 4′ underground IN the Aquifer.

    I majored in Geology at UNL, I know the Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer intimately, far better than ANY of you purport through your ignorant statements.

    Oh, and by the way, MIKE FRIEND, considering that the Koch brothers finance your little astroturf group Americans for Prosperity, your opinion isn’t worth the breath you speak it with, you are nothing more than just a paid stooge of David Koch who would sell your own mother out for $10 and an Attaboy Button if AfP told you to do it. As far as the Keystone XL goes, shut the hell up, NOBODY has asked for your opinion you little quisling.

    I case any of you try to take a shot at me, I’m a fourth generation Nebraskan and a fourth generation Republican. The only things I’m concerned with are the TRUTH and protecting my state and my land!!

    TransCanada is a glorified Snake oil Salesman whom a lot of you have been taken by already. Keystone 1’s 12 leaks haven’t all been at pumping stations, either. Ask the farmer from North Dakota who had a geyser shooting 60′ in the air out of the ground on his property, and when he called the emergency number to TC on the sign to report it, he was told that it wasn’t leaking because the instruments said it wasn’t. It took 1 1/2 hours for a TC technician to get there to visually verify it was leaking, and another 5 1/2 for a repair crew to arrive and shut it down and fix the leak. Estimated 4,200 gallon leak from a pinhole in the pipe 4′ underground. He told me this personally three weeks ago.


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