The Keystone XL oil pipeline issue took on a decidedly rural flair in Atkinson, a north central Nebraska community just about 10 miles from the proposed pipeline route, where the second and final State Department public meeting was held Thursday night. Many of the people who spoke were ranchers from the local area, who expressed concern that the pipeline would leak and pollute the Ogallala Aquifer.
Among them was Paul Corkle of Atkinson, who said the pipeline would run about a mile from his property.
"On our property the water table is far too shallow. We even have difficulty repairing the fences during the springtime and during the winter because of adverse conditions," he said. "I don't know you you're going to repair this pipeline when it's under water."
Bert Fisher, a Tulsa geologist hired by a pipeline workers union, tried to counter those fears.
"In my review of this pipeline matters, wherever it is built, it will be safe," he said. "The best technology will be used."
Many of those who spoke in favor of the pipeline proposal were union members who said it would provide needed jobs. Some opponents said they weren't against the pipeline itself, just the proposed route. One of them, Sterling Schultz of Naper, urged union member to support moving the route farther east.
"The fact of the matter, though, is you will go anywhere in Nebraska where TransCanada locates the pipeline, and you'll go there to get the job you want," he said. "On the other hand, we Nebraska are stuck with the consequences of a crude pipeline oil located in the Sandhills and over the Ogallala aquifer."
Schultz said he was surprised that union supporters had been bussed in from as far away as Illinois, but Randy Miller of Oklahoma, speaking for a pipeline workers union, said he shouldn't be.
"Everybody's here for something," Miller said. "Jobs, and the opportunity to work, happen to be those things that bring us to Atkinson today."
And Danny Hendrix, business manager for a pipeliners local from Oklahoma, said he wasn't opposed to taking a longer route that avoided the Sandhills and the aquifer.
"Now the reroute, I'm not against the reroute, I'm all about that. I mean, that's more miles, okay," he said to hearty applause from the crowd.
The State Department's environmental impact statement has said adding miles to the route would increase risks of a spill. The Department must still decide if the pipeline, which would cross the U.S. border from Canada, is in the national interest.
Terri Taylor, a Sandhills rancher, said she was sad about the pipeline's potential for scarring the land. But Taylor said some good had come from reaction to the proposal.
"The single voices have become choirs, and the word has spread across this great nation of ours, and the voices are all in harmony," she said. "The pipeline is not in the national interest."
University of Nebraska professor of environmental and water engineering John Stansbury said the environmental impact statement was flawed. Among its faults, he said, was accepting pipeline company TransCanada's assumptions about how fast a leaking pipeline could be shut down. It took an hour to shut down a pipeline spilling into the Yellowstone River, and two to twelve hours to shut one spilling into the Kalamazoo River.
But Stansbury said the State accepted TransCanada's claim it could shut down in eleven and a half minutes.
"And the result of all that is it drastically reduces the predicted volume of oil that will be spilled," he said. "So once again, (the study is) not unbiased and certainly not independent."
Frederick Pinkelman, a former commissioner from Wynot in Cedar County, said TransCanada had kept its word in connection with the first Keystone pipeline, built through that county. He said he'd come to the meeting at TransCanada's request.
"I wouldn't have driven 125 miles to come out here today if I weren't convinced that TransCanada is a responsible company, doing all that is humanly possible to construct a safe and necessary pipeline," he said.
Union member Castor Davis said it's simply time to stop arguing.
"I've been hearing the same thing over and over again," he said. "No, yes, no, yes. It's time to make a decision. I support the pipeline, and really need to go back to work. Thank you very much."
State Senator Ken Haar of Malcolm agreed it was time to act, but in a different direction. He said the Legislature's first option was to wait and see if the State Department denies the permit.
"Or option two, the Legislature can step up to the plate and enact a law before the State Department acts. And I think we prefer option two," he said, his words greeted with waves of applause.
Haar said the names of senators who support and oppose a special session will be made public. The State Department has said it will decide on issuing a permit before the end of the year.