Editor's Note: In late September, SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Nebraska to find out more about the Keystone XL pipeline that TransCanada plans to build to carry crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas. This is the sixth in a series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 here.
HORDVILLE, Neb.—Randy Thompson points with a tanned and well-muscled forearm to one of the hundreds of sturdy cedar fence posts ringing his family’s 400-acre farm in central Nebraska’s Platte River Valley.
“We’ve tried to dig holes in the spring and the posts would just float away,” he explains, laughing at the memory. “The holes fill up because the water table is just three- to four-feet deep. We’ve learned to do our fencing in the fall around here.”
That’s why it mystifies him that TransCanada is proposing to bury a for heavy crude four feet deep through a fragile, stunning and wondrous ecosystem that draws tourists eager to witness the migration of massive numbers of sandhill cranes, nourishes crops in a state where agriculture is king and provides drinking water for millions of Midwesterners.
The Calgary-based oil giant has offered to pay the Thompson family a lump sum somewhere in the thousands of dollars to construct a segment of what’s called the Keystone XL pipeline across an 80-acre portion of the farm where fully ripened feed corn is now on the verge of being harvested. That linear easement would amount to almost four of those 80 acres.
“This is just a big headache we didn’t want,” the 62-year-old says while pointing out his pickup truck window at holes left behind by long-ago gravel miners that are filled with water year-round. “If that pipeline leaks water into our aquifer, we have a full-blown disaster. And it doesn’t have to cross here. TransCanada just selected the most inexpensive and shortest route.”
At least one neighbor signed TransCanada’s voluntary contract almost immediately, claiming that it was impossible to fight a corporate behemoth. Thompson, however, is protective of the crop and cattle farm near Central City—christened the Lazy RT Ranch—that his parents, Richard and Frances, bought in 1975.
“I guess it’s the principle of the whole thing,” Thompson says in a melodic drawl, a blend of his Kansas and Nebraska upbringing. “They come tearing across our state, pay us a few bucks, and we’re supposed to be happy. That got my back up.
“And the more I checked it out, the more I found it was an issue worth fighting for. TransCanada told us we can either deal with their negotiators or deal with their attorneys. I said, ‘Bring it on. For a few thousand dollars, you’re not going to scare us.’”
One Legislator’s Effort to Help
By their nature, Nebraska ranchers and farmers are an independent and mostly reticent lot who stay out of the political fray. However, many seem to have found their voices since the Keystone XL issue percolated to the surface relatively recently.
That wasn’t the case just two years ago when TransCanada started installing a separate pipeline—confusingly called the Keystone—in eastern Nebraska where the soil is clay-based, not sandy. Completed in June, it is already carrying heavy crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands. Environmental activists say that first pipeline wasn’t even on their radar screen until they noticed trucks carting steel pipes along Interstate 80.