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Activists decry ‘dirty oil’ pipeline from Canada

State Dept. holds hearings in Kan., Texas

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback supports building the $7 billion Keystone XL project through his state. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback supports building the $7 billion Keystone XL project through his state.
By Maria Sudekum Fisher
Associated Press / September 27, 2011

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TOPEKA, Kan. - Environmentalists told officials from the US State Department yesterday they opposed the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, claiming it would move a “dirtier’’ and “environmentally devastating form of energy’’ from Canada through Kansas and other states to the Texas coast.

Rabbi Moti Rieber, coordinator of Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, said he and others in his coalition disagreed with the State Department’s report, which said there are unlikely to be any serious environmental problems with the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline. Rieber said he strongly opposed the pipeline, which he called a “direct threat’’ to the Kansas environment.

“Exploring tar sands will keep us hooked on this form of oil for another 50 years,’’ Rieber said. “The Keystone XL pipeline represents not energy independence but a new dependence on an even dirtier, environmentally devastating form of energy.

“An energy policy that moves the nation toward an even dirtier form of oil and involves such devastation of God’s creation represents a profound moral failure,’’ he said.

Republican Governor Sam Brownback kicked off the meeting, attended by about 200 supporters and opponents. Brownback said that although he supports exploring alternative energy sources like wind and solar, he also supports building the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline because “for the foreseeable future we’re going to need oil.’’

“I think this is an important security for the United States,’’ Brownback said. “I have been at the front end and the back end of this pipeline. I have been where the oil sands are developed and processed in Canada, and I’ve been to oil refineries in Kansas where they use the oil sands,’’ he said.

“The idea of us being able . . . to have that oil source from a friendly nation that’s next door rather than shipping oil in tankers from halfway around the world in a many times unstable environment is a good thing for us. It’s a good thing for America, a good thing for Kansas.’’

About 40 protesters organized by the National Wildlife Federation marched outside the hall during a break in the meeting. They chanted and carried signs saying, “Stop Keystone XL.’’ About a dozen supporters also gathered with signs that read: “We support Keystone XL.’’

David Barnett, financial secretary for the Pipeliners Union 798, of Tulsa, Okla., said losing the pipeline would cost his members “up in the millions of dollars’’ in paychecks.

“If common sense prevails, it should get approved,’’ Barnett said before the three-hour meeting began.

The pipeline would move tar sands oil from Alberta, and hook up to Calgary-based TransCanada’s existing pipelines and move oil to Oklahoma and the Gulf of Mexico.

A meeting similar to the Topeka session was held yesterday in Port Arthur, Texas.

Officials from the State Department said they don’t plan to answer any questions, reserving most of the time for comments from the public.

Other meetings have been scheduled this week in Montana, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Even in that deeply conservative state there is growing concern about the pipeline’s effect on the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast subterranean reservoir that spans a large swath of the Great Plains and provides water to much of Nebraska and seven other states.

The State Department, which has to approve the pipeline because it would cross the US-Canada border, is expected to decide by the end of the year.

The sessions are likely to focus on the department’s final draft of its environmental impact statement on the pipeline, which found that special conditions put on the pipeline would result in a project with a “degree of safety greater than any typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system under current regulations.’’

TransCanada and its supporters say the pipeline would mean tens of thousands of US jobs and more energy security for the country.

“If the activists feel that they’re facing an uphill battle, it’s because the facts don’t support their overheated rhetoric,’’ said Shawn Howard, a TransCanada spokesman. “It has been shown that the outrageous claims these groups have made aren’t true.’’

Anthony Swift, a policy analyst at the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said the State Department’s decision to schedule more hearings showed that federal officials were feeling increased pressure from opponents.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay said the public comment period will close Oct. 9, two days after the last public meeting, to be held in Washington.

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