Photo by George Lauby
The XL route
Lincoln County Democrats and guests met Thursday at Wild Bill’s Wings and Bowling for supper and an hour-long discussion with Kleeb – the new leader of the state party, and also the leader of “Bold Nebraska,” the coalition that successfully fought TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.The pipeline would cross 1,700 miles from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, carrying 700,000 barrels (28 million gallons) of oil a day.
Kleeb rose to prominence in organizing efforts to stop the pipeline, joining with ranchers who didn’t want the pipeline to run under their land.
Due to the determination of landowners and Kleeb's organizational ability, Nebraska became the only state on the pipeline not to approve a permit.
Kleeb also garnered the support of the the wing of enviromental advocates who are entirely opposed to use of oil, gas and coal, citing the danger of carbon emissions and climate change.
The proposed route was also moved farther east, avoiding the heart of the Sandhills. But, Kleeb said the latest proposed route for the pipeline still threatens the Ogallala aquifer and some of the Sandhills of northeast Nebraska.
In a one-on-one interview with Kleeb before the meeting began, we asked:
• Why be so against fossil fuels, given the massive amounts of low-sulphur coal in Wyoming and well- established ways of converting the coal into electricity? Also, there are currently no visible emissions from the exhaust stacks at Gerald Gentleman Power Station near Sutherland.
She said she doesn’t necessarily want to immediately stop using fossil fuels.
“I’m not saying we can’t use oil and coal,” she said, “but there’s no need to invest in new oil infrastructure (the pipeline) that is going to last another 40-50 years.”
She said it would be better to upgrade existing pipelines. And, she pointed out some of the greater hazards of tar sands oil.
• Won't the XL pipeline also carry light sweet crude from the Bakkan oil fields in the Dakotas?
She said there is no clear contract that Keystone will carry oil from the Bakkan fields, and the primary design of Keystone XL is clearly is to carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada. Tar sand oil is more threatening if spilled than light, sweet crude.
For the thick (tar) oil to flow, Kleeb said it is mixed with 30% chemicals to keep it diluted. The mixture, called diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” for short, won't float to the top of water, so clean up is much more difficult than a spill of light, sweet crude oil would be.
Kleeb said dilbit would travel through the line at high pressure – 1,600 pounds per square inch -- so a lot of oil would leak in a few minutes.
She pointed to a 2014 finding by the National Academy of Sciences that there are few effective techniques to detect the extent of such a spill, and to contain and recover dilbit.
Kleeb also maintains that TransCanada has no right to claim eminent domain over Nebraska farm and ranchland. She said eminent domain is used for public purposes like roads and power lines, not for a pipeline owned by a private company.
“Eminent domain for private gain is a disaster,” Kleeb said recently, “especially for a foreign corporation.”
The question of eminent domain is still under review in Nebraska courts. Last summer, TransCanada temporarily pulled its claims on the land, putting court cases on hold. But with renewed support for the pipeline from Washington, D.C., eminent domain claims will likely be filed again, re-igniting the court cases too.
In a televised interview on Feb. 1, farmer Art Tanderup of Nebraska said the pipeline puts landowners at a distinct disadvantage.
If workers fail to bury the line to the required depth and Tanderup happens to cut it with a farm implement, he would be liable for the damage, according to the deal offered by TransCanada, he said,
Where to next?
Despite Donald Trump’s executive order approving the XL pipeline, it must still be approved by Nebraska’s Public Service Commission, which will require testimony from all parties.
A PSC public hearing is certain to be contentious. Kleeb estimates a state permit might take a year.
Bold Nebraska has issued guidelines on how to submit comments.
Kleeb also told the Bulletin it would be a victory if TransCanada would locate the pipeline alongside its existing Keystone pipeline that runs through eastern Nebraska, but she has left no doubt that she believes it is unnecessary.
"We have enough pipelines in America," she said recently in a televised interview. "It’s time to create a clean energy solution."
Kleeb believes the pipe is already purchased and in storage, and doubts that TransCanada will follow Trump’s order to buy new steel pipe from U.S. companies. She said the steel for the pipeline is primarily from Russia and India.
She agrees that there would initially be construction jobs for the pipeline, but there is no other real benefit. "This is another scam by Trump and big oil lobbyists," she has said.
Kleeb and husband Scott have three daughters. Scott is a former candidate for Congress who now works in marketing for the Morgan Ranch of Burwell.
(Kleeb also spoke to the assembled Democrats and guests for about an hour on Feb. 2. We'll have a report on that meeting soon. -Editor.)