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Nebraska Ranchers Fear Pipeline Talks Have Gone Awry

Want an easement payout? Just sign this nondisclosure agreement, says TransCanada

By Elizabeth McGowan

Oct 13, 2010

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 seventh in a series. Read , , , , and here.

LINCOLN, Neb.—At first, it sounded too promising to resist.

The U.S. State Department would likely grant a presidential permit to build and operate a to carry heavy crude oil from tar sands mines in Alberta to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. If almost was destined to cross private land in 14 Nebraska counties, why shouldn't property owners gain their share of easement dollars from the giant corporation?

Close to 100 of the 470 landowners along the route signed up with and paid dues to Landowners for Fairness, a group formed by local lawyer Stan Dobrovolny. He pledged to negotiate with TransCanada the most lucrative deal possible.

But some members now think those negotiations have gone awry. One, they feel uncomfortable having to sign a nondisclosure agreement—or gag order—to comply with requests from TransCanada. Two, the more they find out about Keystone XL, the less they want anything to do with it.

The terms have prompted them to speak out against the pipeline that, they say, compromises how they earn their living and the natural resources that make that rural lifestyle possible.

"The more I researched, the more I realized I didn't want this and we didn't need this," rancher and construction specialist Ernie Fellows told SolveClimate News. "I didn’t want these kind of hydrocarbons coming through my land."

Located just three miles from the South Dakota border in far northcentral Nebraska, his 580-acre ranch has been in the family since 1937. It's in Keya Paha County, in the heart of Nebraska's signature sandhills, near the Niobrara National Scenic River.

"It has taken me 20 years to restore blowouts," explains Fellows, referring to the arduous process of re-establishing vegetation on a hilly, unstable landscape created from layers of permeable sand resting just above the bountiful Ogallala Aquifer. "TransCanada doesn't seem to understand how long it takes grass to grow back.

"This land is like a Slurpee. If you spill something, it's gone," he continues. "And with a pipeline, it ain't a matter of 'if' but 'when' it will leak."

Removing the Gag

Fellows was asked to leave a mid-September meeting in Atkinson between TransCanada and Landowners for Fairness because he refused to sign the nondisclosure agreement required for entry.

Now he's not sure about his status with the group. But his persistent pursuit of information means the 65-year-old is loaded with questions and concerns about the pipeline.

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