Thursday, January 24, 2013

Neb. governor sets new Keystone XL pipeline route; Obama now faces tough climate-change choice

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved the new route for the controversial Keystone XL tar-sands oil pipeline this week, saying the new route poses very little environmental risk and represents substantial economic-development opportunities. Construction of the TransCanada Inc. pipeline has been halted so the company could find a route that posed less risk to the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground water supply for much of the Midwest, and the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region of Nebraska; and so a year-long review of its possible impacts by the federal government could be conducted. (DTN Progressive Farmer photo: pipeline construction)

Gov. Heineman sent a two-and-a-half page letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining that Nebraska's review of the new route found that it meets state standards, Joe Duggan of The Omaha World-Herald reports. The letter comes 19 days after the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality completed a 2,000-page report saying the pipeline would provide economic benefits and create minimal harm to the environment. The governor's decision means that TransCanada can start negotiating with Nebraska landowners for property easements, and if those negotiations fail, the company can take land through eminent domain. The new route avoids the Sand Hills but still crosses the aquifer.

The fate of the $7 billion pipeline still rests with Obama. Heineman's decision was announced just one day after the president "cited the obligation to posterity and the threat of climate change as an issue that can't be ignored" during his second inaugural address, Chris Clayton of DTN Progressive Farmer reports. Environmentalists say Obama can't declare a commitment to fighting climate change while approving the pipeline, regardless of the route, because of the climate-change impact of tar-sands mining. "Politically, I don't see how he does it because the green groups would see that as a clear sign of betrayal," Bold Nebraska director Jane Kleeb told Clayton. Bold Nebraska has led efforts in the state to stop the pipeline.

Several studies have concluded that the pipeline would provide much economic benefit with little environmental impact, including one by Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who said the project would provide $1.8 billion to Nebraska over 17 years. However, several climate scientists claim tar sands are a direct and immediate threat and will increase climate change, David Biello notes in Scientific American magazine. James Hansen of NASA and  17 other climate scientists sent Obama a letter last week opposing the pipeline.

There are roughly 170 billion barrels of oil to be recovered from Canada's tar sands, which Canada calls oil sands, Biello reports. All those tons represent a lot of possible carbon dioxide if burned, Minnesota's University of Saint Thomas mechanical engineer John Abraham said: The sands industry emits more greenhouse gases than New Zealand and Kenya combined, and if all those sands could be burned, another 240 billion metric tons of carbon would be released into the atmosphere, and if just the oil sands that are recoverable with today's technology get burned, 22 billion metric tons would be released, Biello writes.

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