Keystone’s new route draws same old complaints to U.S. hearing

TransCanada Corp.’s new route for its Keystone XL pipeline, aimed at easing residents’ concerns, drew some of the same complaints at a hearing from activists and Nebraska landowners who said it remained a threat to land and water.

“We are amongst those with the most to lose and the least to gain from the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Randy Thompson, a Nebraska rancher and chairman of the “All Risk, No Reward” coalition that opposes the pipeline to carry bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Supporters of the project said the pipeline poses minimal environmental risks and would create thousands of jobs.

People on both sides of the debate started lining up outside the Grand Island, Nebraska, site of the hearing five hours early in blowing snow and sub-freezing temperatures for a chance to speak today at the only public hearing on a U.S. environmental analysis of the project.

The U.S. State Department was scheduled to hear testimony about its draft environmental impact assessment of the new route from noon until 8 p.m. local time at the Heartland Event Center. More than 400 people were in the audience. The turnout appeared lower than the a September 2011 hearing in Lincoln, the state capital, where residents said the original route threatened Nebraska’s Sand Hills region.

The agency’s analysis examined a new path that Calgary-based TransCanada proposed after President Barack Obama rejected following complaints from Nebraska landowners and state politicians. He encouraged TransCanada to reapply for a permit that would resolve those concerns.

Farms, Ranches

The State Department has jurisdiction because Keystone crosses an international border.

The course now juts further east to avoid the Sand Hills region, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. Critics say the project still threatens farms and ranches and the Ogallala aquifer underneath.

“Our soil is so fragile, the oil will go down to our water when it leaks,” said Ron Crumly, who operates a 1,500 acre corn and soybean farm outside O’Neill, Nebraska. Crumly, 62, and his wife, Jeanne, 60, got in line at 7 a.m. for a chance to tell State Department officials their concerns.

The proposed re-route would cut across the Crumly’s property.

Ronnie Hill drove 11 hours from his home in Kosse, Texas, to speak in support of the pipeline, which would carry bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

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