By Paul Hammel
LINCOLN, Neb. — On his farm north of Albion, Art Tanderup says he’s used no-till farming and cover crops to reduce erosion, enrich his soil and, ultimately, increase yields of corn, soybeans and rye.
He said Tuesday that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would track 55 feet wide and a half-mile across his farm, would compact his soil, destroy micro-nutrients and, because of heat generated by friction in the flowing oil, kill the deep roots of his corn and soybeans.
“It would ruin 13 years of no-till farming,” said Tanderup, a former teacher and a leading member of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska.
He was among four rural Nebraska landowners to testify Tuesday during hearings to determine whether the controversial pipeline’s route across the state is in the “public interest” and whether construction should proceed.
Testimony before the five-member Nebraska Public Service Commission is expected to wrap up Thursday.
The landowners who testified Tuesday said they feared erosion, lowered property values and land that would slowly or never recover if the Keystone XL is authorized.
That was in stark contrast to eight representatives of pipeline developer TransCanada who have testified.
They said there’s no evidence that heat from the pipeline, buried 48 inches deep, would reduce yields or damage crops, and that the company had been able to restore soils to pre-pipeline productivity after construction of a 30-inch-wide Keystone pipeline was completed in 2010.
“Good and successful” was how John Beaver, a Montana-based ecologist hired by TransCanada, called the restoration of farm and ranch ground across eastern Nebraska following completion of the Keystone.
He said he expected the same with the Keystone XL. Even porous, sandy soils that the pipeline crosses — like that on Tanderup’s land — can be reclaimed by using mulch and cover crops to prevent erosion, Beaver said.
That didn’t square with what Tanderup has seen along the Keystone route east of Norfolk, the farmer said in an interview. He said you can see a bare streak through an alfalfa field where the pipeline crosses U.S. 275. On the other side of the highway, he said, you can see where the soil has settled in a cornfield.
That also didn’t match testimony from TransCanada officials, who said they work with landowners to fill in land that has settled, with suitable top soil.
Tuesday’s testimony drew about 30 spectators, about half of the crowd of the opening day of the hearings on Monday.
Outside the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel where the hearings are held, a group of about 50 Native Americans conducted a rally, praying, beating drums and shouting “stand up, fight back.”
The orderly protest followed the signing, by the five Indian tribes of Nebraska and the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, of a treaty opposing the pipeline and tar sands expansion. The Sierra Club said 150 tribes in the U.S. and Canada have signed a similar treaty.
Much of the testimony on Tuesday concerned whether the 36-inch-wide Keystone XL should be rerouted to parallel the existing Keystone pipeline.
Attorney Brian Jorde, who is representing landowners opposed to the project, said that the route proposed by TransCanada was 65 miles longer than the existing Keystone pipeline, which crosses fewer major rivers, less sandy soils and avoids most of the range of the endangered whooping crane.
If the goal of TransCanada is to minimize the disruption of land, isn’t paralleling the Keystone XL with the existing pipeline the best alternative? Jorde asked.
“Not really,” responded Jon Schmidt, a Florida-based regulatory consultant hired by TransCanada, who said that parallel routing was not a viable option.
A TransCanada engineer, Meera Kothari, said the XL’s diagonal route was chosen because it is a straight line from a pipeline pumping station in Alberta to another at Steele City, Nebraska, on the Kansas border.
By contrast, the Keystone route travels north-south, from a converted natural gas pipeline just across the Canadian border through Nebraska from Cedar County in the north to Steele City.
There’s not another pipeline there to hook up to, Kothari said.
Rerouting the pipeline farther east — the route was previously adjusted to avoid Nebraska’s Sand Hills — could add millions to the cost of the long-delayed, $8 billion Keystone XL project, which is already facing financial challenges.
Three of the five members of the Public Service Commission have farming backgrounds, and two of them, Tim Schram of Gretna and Mary Ridder of Callaway, asked several questions about soil restoration and whether TransCanada plans to test soil for fertility and compaction.