When the feds turned down the original route for a “tar sands” pipeline to run through Nebraska’s Sand Hills, the folks at TransCanada might have given you the impression that the decision itself represented some sort of national disaster.
The Canadian company said it would take its unarguably dirty tar sand glop and get it to the West Coast, instead of sending it to refineries on the south coast of Texas. So, there!
They failed to mention the political and other problems they would face in other states.
The original plan had the pipeline running over porous areas of the Sand Hills and the precious Ogallala Aquifer. In some affected areas, the water table is within a few feet of the surface.
Low n’ behold, however, it didn’t take TransCanada more than a corporate minute or two – once the initial fight was lost – to come up with an alternative route though Nebraska.
This development was so predictable it wouldn’t have gotten even one shouted “Surprise!” from Gomer Pyle.
The new route would run east of the Sand Hills area – or most of it. Critics contend the pipeline would still pose a threat of aquifer pollution in some areas.
The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, under a newly enacted law, will review TransCanada’s new proposal.
The fight over the pipeline, and the product it would transport, was and continues to be national in scope.
Opponents include a host of scientists and environmental groups who say the bitumen from the tar sands is the dirtiest on earth, and that mining and using it would be a disaster.
Meanwhile, proponents in Nebraska and elsewhere maintain it would make America less dependent on other foreign sources of energy. And it would create jobs. Both assertions are subject to scrutiny.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that testimony offered by experts working for TransCanada itself shows that the company actually expects the pipeline to feed the export market and actually increase the price of gasoline in the Midwest, as the current supply in the region is reduced.
And while TransCanada has estimated the job creation number at 20,000, independent estimates by the State Department and Cornell University predict a range of 2,500-6,000 temporary construction jobs with no significant impact on long-term job creation.
Gov. Dave Heineman has always supported the general idea of a pipeline, but acknowledged public opinion in Nebraska in opposing the route first sought by TransCanada.
If the Department of Environmental Quality signs off on the new plan, it will likely build support for the pipeline in the Legislature.
The pipeline would run some 1,700 miles from Canada to the Texas coast and cost an estimated $7.6 billion.
Ed Howard covers the statehouse for the Nebraska Press Association.