Nebraska residents divided over Keystone XL ahead of Thursday public hearing

2013-04-17T18:14:00Z 2014-01-21T15:57:22Z Nebraska residents divided over Keystone XL ahead of Thursday public hearingART HOVEY Lincoln Journal Star Sioux City Journal
April 17, 2013 6:14 pm  • 

LINCOLN | Crucial decisions come along on which people won’t agree after hearing hours and hours of the same evidence.

That’s why there are hung juries.

And that’s why Larry Crouse reaches a different conclusion about the Keystone XL pipeline than Kevin and Shannon Graves.

Crouse, who owns ranch land where the proposed $7 billion TransCanada project would enter Nebraska in Keya Paha County, is eager to sign an easement agreement that would advance the project to transport crude oil from western Canada to U.S. refineries.

“All of the money I get out of this is going to go directly to my Baptist church,” he said Wednesday. “I’m getting nothing. I told the pipeline company that, and I told the church that.”

The Graveses, of Bradshaw, have no intention of profiting from an easement agreement either, but that’s because they have no intention of signing one that would bring the 36-inch pipe within a few hundred feet of their well.

“Once we saw where they were planting their little stakes and we got to measuring that,” Shannon Graves said, “it got a little scary.”

Much on her mind is a March 29 rupture of an Exxon oil pipeline in Arkansas.

“You look at Mayflower, Arkansas, and a 22-foot gash in a much smaller pipeline and the damage that did in that cul-de-sac.”

Crouse and the Graveses have plenty more to say about a project on which they couldn’t disagree more. They get their chance Thursday during a marathon public input session at the Heartland Event Center in Grand Island.

The U.S. State Department, still weighing a permit for the project more than four years after TransCanada unveiled it, will hear from a procession of advocates and critics in two sessions set for noon-3:30 pm. and 4-8 p.m.

Down the road from there, perhaps as soon as summer, is approval or denial of a presidential permit that’s required because the pipeline crosses an international border.

Nowhere has this project generated more opposition on the ground than in Nebraska, where fears about contamination of the Ogallala Aquifer and Sandhills erosion have run up against proponents of energy security and the boost pipeline construction would give to the economy.

As one example of the state’s high pipeline profile, staunch critic Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska was recently labeled “the Pipeline Killer” by Rolling Stone magazine.

Crouse is not impressed by critics’ assertions of global warming and other alleged consequences of developing oil sands deposits in Alberta.

“God controls this atmosphere,” he said. “They don’t. That’s the first thing they should learn.”

The Graveses are the fourth generation to live on fertile farmland 75 miles northwest of Lincoln. But their day jobs are at Tradition Hardware in Polk, where a sign in the window proclaims their strong feelings about what Shannon Graves describes as “a great big scar right down the center” of the United States.

Her husband said he’s not worried about alienating pro-pipeline customers in a decidedly rural setting.

“I think my feeling on that is that people who are not sitting where it goes through have no opinion either way. Even people who have signed already are not upset with the people who are against it.”

And that cuts both ways.

“Believe me, I don’t hold any less regard for them than for anybody else.”

Back on Crouse’s side of the issue, not all of his pipeline preference comes wrapped in Christian context.

“This is very valuable stuff,” he said. “So we’ve got this in the ground. That stuff will be taken out of the ground and sold – period.”

His opinion: If it doesn’t come across the U.S. border, it will go somewhere else.

“They’re already talking about building a pipeline that will go to British Columbia. And, of course, if they get there, the closest place to refine is China.”

As close as Crouse comes to seeing the other side’s point of view is on TransCanada’s 2012 decision meant to move Keystone XL off the map of the Sandhills and away from the most porous and shallowest parts of the aquifer.

“It’s not quite as sandy. I agree this is better. But I don’t believe there was a damn thing wrong with where it was in the first place, either.”

It was the route change that brought the proposed project onto his hay and pasture ground in Keya Paha County.

Take that to mean he’s OK with the pipeline being close.

For Shannon Graves, it can’t get far enough away.

She concedes the Keystone XL would be newer and less vulnerable to what happened to a 65-year-old pipe in Arkansas.

“The chances of it happening are slim,” she said, “but there are still chances. And I’m not willing to take a chance for the pittance they’ll pay me.

“My livelihood, my life is in jeopardy.”

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