Nebraska becomes battlefield in fight over Keystone XL pipeline

YORK, Nebraska - The head of pipeline safety in the United States told Congress on Tuesday that 2013 was a banner year with deaths from accidents at a five-year low.

Construction of one major pipeline is tied up in a debate between jobs and safety.

A company called TransCanada wants to build the line from Canada to Texas.

The wide open spaces of central Nebraska are an unlikely battlefield, but this is where the two opposing sides come head-to-head in the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline.

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The pipeline would be under Jenni Harrington's family farm
CBS News

As now proposed, the pipeline would run right under Jenni Harrington's family farm. CBS News spoke with her a few weeks ago.

"Like a new roof, it's pretty great in the first 10 years, but you get 15, 25 years down the road and pipelines are going leak, are going rupture," she said.

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Jenni Harrington
CBS News
And if this one did, opponents say it could have a devastating environmental impact.

The pipeline would run about 5 to 8 feet below the Nebraska topsoil, but on top of the Ogallala Aquifer which provides nearly 2 million people with drinking water across eight states.

"You can't see the Ogallala Aquifer, but it may be the single most valuable natural resource the country has," said Greg Awtry, the publisher of the local paper.

He believes oil and water should not mix.

"It's not the pipe," he said. "It's what's in the pipe."

The oil from the tar sands in Canada is too thick to flow through pipelines so it has to be diluted with benzene and other chemicals linked to cancer.

TransCanada promises elaborate monitoring and protection systems. It also claims the project will create 9,000 jobs.

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The Keystone XL pipeline would run from Alberta to Texas
CBS News

Nebraska state Sen. Jim Smith is a leading pipeline supporter.

"With the affordable, abundant supply of energy, that's going to have an impact on our economy," he said.

And Smith said the financial cost of spill cleanups will be an incentive for TransCanada to build the safest possible pipeline. He said he was satisfied with the company's assurances.

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Nebraska's open spaces are the battlefield for the Keystone XL pipeline
CBS News

"With the 59 reinforced safety measures on this pipeline, it's going be a safe pipeline," he said.

But with the pipeline still tied up in the courts here, and the Obama administration deferring an up-or-down decision until later this year, the debate will likely simmer all summer.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.

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