Landowners and advocacy organizations from Nebraska are among some 60 critics of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline calling on two federal agencies to develop safety regulations for projects that ship a product they refer to as diluted bitumen from underground deposits in Alberta.
The National Wildlife Federation is spearheading a petition filing with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration that argues the proposed contents of the Keystone pipeline would be more corrosive than crude oil and should be regulated separately.
“This is the first time that we’re aware of that this has been done in a pipeline safety context,” Jim Murphy, an attorney with the national wildlife group, said of the petition effort.
The Nebraska Wildlife Federation and Bold Nebraska are among the organizations behind the new effort to stop or delay a TransCanada project that already has been under review by the U.S. State Department for almost four years.
Among the people signed onto the petition effort are Jenelda Dittrich of Elgin, who lives about six miles from the proposed route of the Keystone XL, and Susan Connolly, who lives about two miles from the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, scene of an on-going cleanup of an Enbridge pipeline spill in 2010.
Dittrich is worried about what could happen to Nebraska’s water resources in the event of a major pipeline accident here.
That’s despite assurances from federal officials that any threat to the Ogallala Aquifer would be localized and despite assurances from TransCanada that it’s taking extra precautions, including using thicker pipe walls and burying the pipe deeper than required by law.
Connolly, meanwhile, is living with the results of an incident that dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil from Canada into the Kalamazoo and its Talmadge Creek tributary.
“There’s still a lot of cleanup left,” Connolly said Tuesday of a July 2010 spill.
“We’re talking several hundred acres of cleanup left,” she said. “Even aside from that, there’s residual oil flowing down the river.”
The EPA directed Enbridge last week to do more remedial dredging.
The company recently raised the estimated cost of the cleanup to more than $800 million and said, according to a Reuters article, that it would go beyond the scope of its insurance coverage.
Connolly’s children were at a day-care center about half a mile from the spill site when it happened and were among those made sick by the fumes, she said.
While she and Dittrich come from very different perspectives on pipeline safety, both are hoping the petitions that bear their names will make a difference.
“If you don’t speak up,” said Dittrich, who’s lived on the same farm for 62 years, “what voice do you have then on anything?”
She’s not satisfied with TransCanada’s decision to move the route east and off a map of the Sandhills.
“It crosses through the Sandhills yet,” she said. “That’s what we don’t understand. They rerouted it, and it’s still over the aquifer.”
Connolly’s advice for Nebraskans is to learn from what happened in Michigan and “keep standing together, standing strong."
"People from all over the nation are supporting them on what they’re going through there.”
National Wildlife Federation attorney Murphy said there was no way to know how the EPA or the pipeline safety agency would respond to the petitions or how that might affect the State Department’s review of TransCanada’s request for a presidential permit for the project.
Nebraska is expected to host another State Department hearing on Keystone XL during the next few weeks. Federal officials have yet to announce a date or site for that event.