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Pipe waits on the prairie as Keystone XL debate rages almost 5 years

By   /   June 19, 2013  /   News  /   53 Comments

Photo courtesy of Bret Clanton

LIMBO: Some 230 miles of pipe has been sitting in this pasture near Gascoyne, N.D., since 2011 as the debate rages over the Keystone XL oil pipeline.


By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN – South Dakota rancher Bret Clanton heard a Canadian oil pipeline company, TransCanada, was stockpiling pipe across the border in North Dakota. In 2011 he drove from his ranch to take a look.

At the top of a hill east of Scranton, N.D. — near a ghost town named Gascoyne — trucks unloaded pipe into a pasture. That field is now filled with rows and rows of mostly aqua-green pipe, some stamped with the words “made in Canada.” It’s where the pipe has sat ever since, waiting for the Obama administration to give the green light so it can be buried in American soil, filled with oil from Alberta, Canada and sent to Texas refineries.

The future of the 230 or so miles of unused pipe in rural North Dakota has caused consternation for environmentalists, libertarians, union workers, oil companies, farmers, ranchers, governors and politicians — from the lowliest county commissioner to the president.

Should a Canadian company be allowed to put 1,179 miles of this pipe in the ground and run 830,000 barrels of oil per day through it?

The question has vexed America since TransCanada applied for its permits in September 2008. Clanton is deeply interested in the outcome, since three miles of the pipeline would cross his cattle ranch near Buffalo, S.D.

Clanton occasionally visits the pipe yard and takes pictures of the pipe – a pile so big he can’t fit it in one frame. He figures TransCanada chose Gascoyne as a storage spot because it has a railroad spur once used for a coal mine. The few times Clanton visited the pipe yard and taken photos, a little white pickup stopped by to keep watch.

“You could drive right in the middle of it if you wanted,” Clanton said. “I don’t think they ever expected that it was going to end up laying there for three years.”

Photo courtesy of Bret Clanton

PIPES ON THE PRAIRIE: Bret Clanton snapped this photo when the pipes were being unloaded near Gascoyne, N.D., back in 2011.

In fact, some of the pipe has since been painted with white latex to protect it from the elements.

The Gascoyne pipe yard is not fenced, but TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard says it is “secure.”

Howard says another 250 miles of pipe is stored at a manufacturer’s facility in Regina, Sask., and the rest is at a manufacturing plant in Little Rock, Ark. The ultimate destination of the Gascoyne pipes hasn’t been determined, but if the project is approved it will end up in Montana, South Dakota or Nebraska.

To some, the fact TransCanada bought and stored much of the pipe for Keystone XL before getting all of its permits approved reeks of hubris.

“TransCanada was arrogant about eminent domain and arrogant about buying all the pipe,” says Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, which has organized opposition to the pipeline in Nebraska. “They just assumed they would be welcomed with open arms like in 2008. We all know a thing now about tar sands (oil), property rights and the risks.”

For Clanton, the pipes are a symbol of a fight he’s been waging since he first saw surveyors on his land about six years ago. These surveyors “weren’t always good map readers” and “had trespassing issues,” he said.

“They wouldn’t tell you who they were or what they were doing,” he said. He’s heard from about eight land agents since then – agents he calls “a piece of work.”

Bret Clanton

“I would not wish that process on anybody,” he says. “They can say and do anything to procure your signature because they’re not accountable to anybody. … I think they’re hiring them out of a bar in Tulsa, Okla. They’re not the brightest bulbs on the block.”

Similar to the way one of TransCanada’s land agents in Nebraska also happened to be a preacher, Clanton says they’ve sent a few agents waving Jesus flags on their way into town.

“Christians fell right in behind ’em,” he says. He’s a Christian, too, he said, but he wasn’t buying it. He saw Native American land agents materialize to speak to members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

“They know what they’re doing,” he says of TransCanada. “My issue on this whole thing is my state, South Dakota, gave the power of condemnation to a foreign, for-profit company. Your average person doesn’t understand the process that’s taken place.”

In his latest visit to the pipe yard Clanton saw “an endless line of trucks coming in and out,” and he believes they’re picking up fracking sand used to release oil in North Dakota’s booming Bakken oil fields.

The Keystone XL wouldn’t go through North Dakota – in fact, it seems to avoid North Dakota, even though TransCanada says one-fourth of the pipeline capacity will be used for light crude oil from the Bakken. That oil would be picked up at an “on ramp” in Baker, Mont., that TransCanada calls Bakken Marketlink.

But Clanton is skeptical of that plan. As controversy over the Keystone XL heated up, TransCanada highlighted its plans to transport Bakken oil, but Clanton remembers how the company had to be muscled into picking up the North Dakota oil.

TransCanada has a number of places where it will store or stage equipment along a proposed route while awaiting approval, which normally takes 18 to 24  months, so the company committed to producing materials such as pipes and pump stations “to make sure things were available in a timely fashion,” Howard said.

“Keystone XL was applied for in 2008 and was on track to complete the regulatory review process in 2010,” Howard said in an emailed comment. “The BP incident in the Gulf of Mexico and the Enbridge spill in Michigan changed the regulatory and political landscape related to our project.”

But the pipeline equipment had already been ordered. As it was completed, TransCanada took possession, Howard said.

After the pipe is laid, he said, it is subjected to “rigorous, internal inspections” with specialized equipment to detect even the smallest imperfections.

Clanton says the longer the permitting process drags on, “the scarier it’s getting.”

“All I ever wanted to be is a cowman until this was thrust upon me,” he said. He’s now a member of Dakota Rural Action, which helps landowners negotiate easements and land restoration.

Clanton has always thought of himself as an “ultraconservative Republican” but since the Keystone XL came along he’s been called lots of names, including an eco-terrorist.

“I don’t know what the hell I am anymore,” he says.

Contact Deena Winter at [email protected].

Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.


Deena formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Joan

    Bret Clayton, thank you for all you are doing to save us from the TransCanada Pipeline. My original home was Kalamazoo, Michigan where the horrible Enbridge spill occurred and regardless of how often and how hard I try to explain to the lay people in Nebraska, the permanent dangers of this toxic oil is to humans and our water and land, they continue to believe the lies of TransCanada. Please don’t give up the fight.

  • Jason3

    Didn’t Canada have one of the worst oil disasters in recent history. In early June didn’t they have some kind of pipeline leak/break in Alberta that flooded the surrounding area?

  • Joan

    I can’t answer your question. Maybe Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska or if you email Joe Jordan.

  • Bam

    I imagine there are plenty of people who have the pipeline running under their land, and appreciate the income and can attest to never having a problem with it. But if you want to write a story a certain way, they’re the last ones to talk to – just talk to the NIMBYs.

    I always hope for balance and objectivity in one of these stories from Deena. Guess I can keep hoping.

  • Bam

    Perhaps you’re thinking of the train hauling oil from Canada that derailed and leaked 30,000 gallons of crude in western Minnesota in March? Yeah, trains are MUCH safer than pipelines… and pay no attention to the fact that Jane Kleeb’s Klub is financed by a guy who’s got a big money stake in the BNSF railroad.

  • bret clanton

    Bam were you hired in Tulsa also?

  • Bam

    Nope, doing it on my own, cowboy. I’m fighting the good fight.

  • bret clanton

    As am I

  • Bam

    Excuse me – Rich/Ant Bee/bret/Guest. Any other aliases you want us to watch for? But just so I stay on topic, let me add this quote about the Minnesota rail spill from three months ago:

    “It is good business for the rails and bad safety for the public,” said Jim Hall, a transportation consultant and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

    “Railroads travel through population centers. The safest form of transport for this type of product is a pipeline. This accident could – and ought to – raise the issue for discussion,” he added.

  • Michele Cox Sanchez

    what are the pipe lines that were place out by Hoskins and staton, Nebraska aren’t they already in place??

  • Dave

    Keep fighting TransCanada (you conservative SOB 😉 ) it is good when liberals and conservatives join together to stop a very dangerous plan.
    Thank you!

  • Joan

    Jason3, the spill happened on 6/1/13 in Alberta, Canada. It covered 1,000 acres of land and to date is the largest spill in North America. The pipe in place was five years old and when put in place TransCanada refused to purchase the latest technology sensors for leaks. They are doing the same with refusing the technology for the Keystone Pipe line.

  • Tim P

    We don’t need any oil or energy. We can travel around on unicorns and walk down to the corner gay bar.

  • chuck drew

    If all you jackass farmers, ranchers & cowboys would give up your gas guzzling, macho, SUV’s & big boy, little brain trucks & buy a hybrid or God Forbid an Electric car, I might buy your BS! Why Kleeb even drives a gas guzzler!! WTF is that about??

    If this project wasn’t Canadian, it would be pumping 5 years ago!

  • pipeline fighter

    You have no idea what kind of vehicle Jane Kleeb drives…I will tell you this…it is NOT a gas guzzler!! Quit picking on her, she is one hell of a great woman and has done nothing but good for our state and country!! Get over yourself and open your eyes to the larger picture!!

  • Nicholas

    Most of those “jackass farmers, ranchers & cowboys” probably need those vehicles. An electric car is great in the city, but riding dirt roads, hauling, and towing you still probably need those gas guzzlers.

  • John_Wayne_American

    Screw the pipeline, I lrather enjoy sitting in Moorhead and counting rail tanker car after tanker car as I wait to cross the tracks… NOT!

  • Guest

    One HUGE advantage railways have over pipelines is that they are not committed to one destination. They can ship east coast, west coast or gulf coast.

  • Bam

    They still can. They can still spill, too, and be much easier hit by terrorists. I wonder why Kleeb and other environmentalists never talk about the huge amounts of fuel those diesel engines burn, nor about the pollutants they produce, nor about how keeping the pipeline closed will force even more diesel engines onto the tracks? Probably because Dick Holland told her not to talk about the real polluters if she still wants funding.

  • R&R

    For everyone of you city people that want to bad mouth us agriculture people, I hope you like what you’re spending on beef, meat, and veggies. Because if there is a spill…you’ll be bitching about the price of those items then, when we don’t have water to feed our livestock with or water our crops.

    Also, Chuck Drew, many of us agriculture people are trying our best to not gas guzzle as you would say. My husband and I are doing all of our ranching on horseback and I drive a hybrid car to work (60 miles round trip). But my husband does need a Ford F250 to haul our livestock into town to sell them, just because those hybrids/electric cars can’t pull anything but themselves basically. Once the motor vehicle industry stops sucking of the teat of the oil companies and starts to realize that there are still farmers and ranchers out here trying to make a living…maybe then we would stop being the “gas guzzlers” you seem to accuse us of being.

  • Guest

    Check and see how much energy a pipeline pumping station consumes.

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    The only jack ass I can see here is YOU! Jane Kleeb does NOT drive a gas guzzler, and I can attest to that. The vehicle she drives gets 30 mpg on the highway.

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    So that’s where you’ve been hiding, huh?

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    No BAM, you moron, he’s referring to the 6.5 MILLION gallon spill of toxic waste water from Tar Sands processing https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=670056873020850&set=a.194409153918960.56614.100000496309666&type=1&relevant_count=1 that the Albertan Government “forgot” to tell its citizens about – no surprise since the Province’s Premier is a former Tar Sands Industry Executive. Or the fact that for the past fourteen years they’ve averaged TWO pipeline leaks a day in Alberta.

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    Yes, the vast majority of the farmers and ranchers who testified against the Keystone XL at the Grand Island State Department hearing were REPUBLICANS!!

    Party lines don’t erase the fact that allowing TransCanada to take a giant Tar Sands crude sh*t into the pot we drink, water livestock and irrigate out of, the Ogallala Aquifer, is a BAD IDEA from the get-go. Only those people of low intelligence, work for TransCanada or one of its allies or are politically ideologically blind think otherwise. WHEN the KXL ruptures and spills irreparably into the Ogallala Aquifer Nebraska’s Ag Economy will DISAPPEAR! We will NOT export one ounce of beef to another country, nor one bushel of grain, for fear that it will be contaminated with Benzene, Xylene or Toluene from being watered/irrigated with contaminated water. This will also apply to domestic consumption, too. This State will economically collapse in a matter of months, the Nebraska Brand of our agricultural products USELESS.

    The Republican Farmers and Ranchers who testified AGAINST the KXL did so out of the realization of this TRUTH, and no longer listen to that quisling traitor, Gov. HeineyMan, or his Koch sucking henchmen in the Unicameral or Attorney General’s Office. HeineyMan sold out all Nebraskans.

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    And you all are on the forefront of using renewable energy and biofuels to power your farm and ranch operations, too. Of course a pretend rancher like Deb Fischer knows nothing of real ranching or of being a steward of the land, just how to kiss political ass and suck up to the Koch’s money and AFP.

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    Isn’t that considered an exciting Saturday night out in Moorhead, counting railroad cars, when you’re not filling 2,000,000 sand bags instead because of the fossil fuels caused climate change induced flooding of the Red River?

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    Of course TransCanada will go ahead and bury that rusty, faulty pipe that’s been sitting up in N. Dak for nearly five years – just like they buried pipe down in Texas for the KXL’s southern leg back in March that had pinholes down the entire length of the longitudinal seam weld where they roll the flat sheet into pipe, and then just a couple of weeks ago started digging back up 60 miles of that faulty buried pipe they had laid, knowing it was defective to start with, the photos of the holes prior to burial were all over the internet – and DO NOT be fooled by the stamps on the pipe, or what Shawn Howard says, that pipe is manufactured in INDIA with CHINA-source raw materials, then shipped to North America where it can be called “American” because it shipped to and out of Wellspun’s Arkansas facility.

    TransCanada has NO safety standards, just profit margins.

    Shawn Howard is TransCanada’s PR person – in other words he is paid large amounts of money to lie out his ass to cover for TransCanada. In that, he holds a unique ability that he shares with Gov. HeineyMan, the ability to speak out of both ends of his digestive tract at the same time.

  • Joan

    Bam, what part of the facts that you have been given by Watching from Lincoln and other environmentalists with first hand knowledge, do you not understand? Or are you simply a person who believes that climate change does not exist and Adam & Eve were the procreators of mankind as we know it today?

  • Dave

    Good for you, if you lean that way! Have a good time, and say hi to Gandolf.

  • Dave

    I agree with you, but name calling and derogitary comments… like I have used too often, will not get anyone to think. Those that refuse to think, (Bam) there is nothing we can do about them.

  • Bam

    I KNOW “man-made” climate change doesn’t exist. I KNOW that you – given the limited intelligence that you’ve exhibited – have no idea whether it exists or not. I KNOW that you parrot what you are told from the left-wing media and websites that form your thinking.

    Some clown named “Watching from Lincoln” holds the truth no more than any of those with “first-hand knowledge” that you claim. I have a university hydrologist from the University of Nebraska who has studied the Oglala Aquifer for more than 30 years – give me someone who knows the Sand Hills better than he does! Just because you have some yahoo who loves the land and calls himself an “environmentalist,” it doesn’t make make them an expert.

  • Bam

    Check and see how much thousands of diesel engines consume.

  • Bam

    Who are YOU to say that you can attest? Just as you made up your name, you can make up any “fact” and attest to it.

  • Bam

    I’ll bet that you also dump fertilizers and chemicals on your land to make things grow. I’ll bet that you dump your oil on the ground and spill gasoline without cleaning it up or filing an environmental impact statement. There’s nothing more hypocritical than an “environmentally sensitive” farmer.

  • Bam

    I went to your link – You get your info from MEMES?! I think we’ve found the moron here. And I thought we were talking about oil spills – you’re talking about waste water. It sounds like the infrastructure is aging and needs replacing – I’m sure environmentalists have blocked efforts to do so.

    So you have absolutely no problem with the rail spill in THIS country? Nice – I guess we see what a phony you are about the environment.

  • Joan

    Bam, WFL link was about H20=mine was about a 1,000 acre Tarsand oil spill on 6/1/13 in Alberta Canada, reported on NBC & MSNBC. A fact!

  • Bam

    Joan… the link goes to a Facebook page. The link on that page goes to Greenpeace. You’re getting all of your links confused. And if you’re getting your news from MSNBC, you’re already lost.

  • Joan

    When you are sober Friday spell check your entry. You are certainly no more intelligent than anyone else on the blog. Please remember when this world becomes short on water, food that we can eat, I will share with Jackasses like you because you know not what you do. You do not follow the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”,

  • Bam

    You’re getting off the subject again, Joan, but I’ll humor you.

    I checked my entry – no errors – as usual. Would that you’d do the same as your entries are typically peppered with spelling errors, punctuation mistakes, and capitalization flaws such as above.

    I don’t think I’d want any food or water from someone who calls people “Jackasses” (sic), though. Is that how you follow the Golden Rule? Would you have me call you a jackass as you have done unto me? I don’t treat old ladies like that, so forgive me if I don’t.

  • Joan

    Ogallala…I am done once again Bam. I enjoy exchanging information with other bloggers that are open to new in- formation based in reality. However, you insist upon making Joe’s blog a joke by bringing to the table baseless information, pretending you are perfect, and you are the judge and jury of all information presented and it’s validity. I do not forgive you because I am sure you do treat all women the same, with no respect.

  • Bam

    Ah, you got me there – I was going with the tribe’s spelling. But I’ve never pretended I was perfect, nor am I afraid to share what I know or what I believe. By the way (and you’ve said this twice now), Deena – not Joe – wrote the story. And you – operating on baseless information – have no idea of how I treat women. I treat people that I meet individually, and that includes you. I treat you with SOME respect, but not much.

  • Joan

    Obviously because my family lives by the Kalamazoo River and have first hand knowledge of the Enbridge spill my contribution does not count…and you kiss your mother with that mouth of yours.

  • Bam

    Three things are obvious here, Joan:

    1) You’ve never said anything about your family, other than two daughters working as professionals and that one told you that “tea bagger” was a derogatory term. So I think you’re lying about where they live and their expertise on spills.

    2) That last statement is just really weird. I don’t swear, nor call people names, so not sure where you got that. Or maybe you just like to lie. It’s just an odd thing for an old lady to say.

    3) You said you were “done” a couple posts above, yet here you still are. Again with the lies!

  • Keenan

    Why not just build a refinery in North Dakota? As long as they have water around, what would stop them from building there? No chance of hurricanes, little chance of tornadoes, and the effects blizzards have been minimal since the invention of the car and joining in with a light bulb.

  • Keenan

    Oh, sorry, I’ll turn in my 1995 Cobra Mustang and buy a piece-a-shat-us (prius). Or not. It gets around 20 MPG with a Cleveland 305. Not too shabby.

  • Keenan

    AGW is bs. Please attempt to stick to facts.

  • Joan

    My 98 y/o father, my sister and her husband, the majority of their children live in Kalamazoo. I was, and my siblings were born there. I don’t lie and I am talking about how you judge others and pretend you know everything. Yes I said I was done but I found I could not allow you to continue with your falsehoods. You should be ashamed for your lack of respect for others, that is why I said what I said about kissing your mother. I would be most upset if either of my daughters displayed the behaviors I have seen out of you. This is America and I and everyone else is aloud to contribute to the blog without you questioning their entry, their grammar or punctuation.

  • Bam

    “Allowed,” not aloud.

  • Joan

    Always have to have the last word, what a jerk, yes allowed.

  • Bam

    Now, if you get the last word, are YOU the “jerk”?

  • There are already tens of thousands of miles of buried pipeline under the U.S.
    Anybody here have natural gas to heat your house?
    Pipes get it there.

    Anybody here own a car?
    …does it run on unicorn urine, pixie dust, or oil?

    Is the computer you are READING THIS on made from plastic?
    …petroleum byproduct.

    We need oil.

  • Why not?
    The tyranny of the bureaucraps – as in: the EPA.
    Blame the eco-terrorists for that one.