Pipeline expansion passes

Keystone set to expand four days after spill

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Jeffery Osborns / The Torch

After nine years of debate and protest, Nebraska state regulators, in a 3-2 vote, have approved a new route for the Keystone XL pipeline. The addition of the Keystone XL pipeline has faced heavy opposition from environmentalists worldwide, most recently being the subject of the Standing Rock protests in 2016.  The eight billion dollar addition received approval only four days after the existing Keystone pipeline spilled upwards of 210,000 gallons of crude oil in South Dakota. Environmental advocates in Oregon are using the spill as support for their opposition to a natural gas pipeline slated to be built through southern Oregon.

The idea for the Keystone XL pipeline came to fruition in 2008 as a shortcut and overall enlargement of the original pipeline. Notably, the Nebraska regulators approved of the pipeline under the conditions that it would use an alternative route, which could potentially spark a new set of legal challenges.  

According to The New York Times, Nebraska regulators were not allowed to consider previous oil spills when making their decision to expand the pipeline.

Mary Baxter, an environmental science instructor at Lane Community College, is not surprised by the recent spill.

“It’s practically unavoidable,” Baxter said. “It’s pretty much the cost of doing business these days.”

Baxter went on to detail the deep-rooted effects an oil spill can have on local lands.

“Oil spills have a tendency to taint the groundwater, which could have long-lasting effects on surrounding communities. They kill vegetation and any critters that are living in the area,” Baxter said. “If it’s an area that’s cold, like South Dakota, it will stick around a lot longer and prevent an already difficult cleanup.”

In 2015, before the UN climate-change talks in Paris, President Obama blocked the pipeline in an effort to help prevent climate change. Less than a week after his inauguration, Trump ordered a reversal on that decision. Since then, TransCanada has completed nearly 40 percent of The Keystone XL around trading hubs in Oklahoma.

Second-year Lane student Phillip Spanne, aside from the environmental impacts, doesn’t see the business benefits of expanding the pipeline either.

“From my understanding of it, America is hardly profiting from the pipeline. It’s Canadian Oil that’s eventually exported to Asia,” Spanne said.

TransCanada released a statement on Monday detailing their plan to evaluate the alternative route approved by the regulators.

Since 2005, Oregon environmentalists have protested a natural gas pipeline going through the southern end of the state, ending in Coos Bay. Most recently, The Pacific Connector pipeline, known as the Jordan Cove project, had a ban lifted to allow work to proceed.

Following last week’s Keystone spill, Joseph Vaile, the executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, is worried about the inevitability of a leak in Oregon if the Pacific Connector pipeline takes shape.

“We fear we’re going to have a spill like that,” Vaile said. “The proposed pipeline would cross hundreds of streams, including the Rogue River, which has some of the largest salmon fisheries in the United States.”

Michael Hinrichs, director of communications for the Jordan Cove Project, told The Business Times that if all goes well, the Pacific Connector would be operational by late 2023.

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