The final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline was released Friday. In it the State Department says it is “very unlikely” the pipeline could affect water quality in the Great Plains Aquifer in Nebraska.
Nationally, controversy over the pipeline has centered on energy and economic benefits, on the one hand, vs. environmental costs on the other. In Nebraska, concern has concentrated over the degree of risk to the state’s water supply in case of a leak, particularly its underground aquifers.
The report says that in most of the area that the pipeline would cross, it’s very unlikely the Great Plains aquifer would be affected because it’s below other aquifers or water-bearing structures. It says in southern Nebraska, the Great Plains Aquifer is close to the surface, and water quality could be affected by a release. But it says the lack of a downward gradient also makes it very unlikely the Great Plains Aquifer would be affected in that area.
That doesn’t necessarily reassure John Stansbury, a University of Nebraska environmental engineer who wrote a report on the plume of groundwater pollution that could be created if the pipeline leaks “If you’re in an area that is overlain by a usable aquifer, obviously at a higher elevation then the contamination of the lower aquifer is not the primary concern. The contamination of the upper, usable aquifer would be the primary concern,” Stansbury said.
Pipeline opponent Jane Kleeb of the group BOLD Nebraska also said the risk to the aquifer and rivers in Nebraska means the pipeline is not worthwhile.
But several Nebraska elected officials said the report means it’s time for for the Obama administration to approve the pipeline.
“Studies have confirmed that this project will have little to no impact on our environment,” U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns said. “What it will impact is our economy by creating construction jobs and supplying energy sources from a friendly neighbor.”
And Third District Congressman Adrian Smith said “The State Department has once again confirmed the Keystone pipeline would be safe and in the best interest of our nation….with the environmental review now complete, it’s time to move forward with this project which would improve our energy security, create jobs, and spur economic growth.”
Despite the report, it could still be months before a final decision on the project. The State Department will take public comments from Feb. 5 to March 7, and then decide if the pipeline is in the national interest. After that, other agencies can weigh in, bucking the final decision up to President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, a suit challenging the constitutionality of the state law under which the route in Nebraska was approved has yet to be decided.
In the Legislature Friday, a proposal aimed at limiting Nebraska’s costs from huge data requests stalled amid questions about how the state handles electronic records. Current Nebraska law puts a limit of $2,000 on how much the Secretary of State can charge for bulk requests of business records.
The office has millions of such records, including corporate filings and liens. Various companies, including credit bureaus and legal services companies, have made large requests, although so far, no one has requested all the records. But just in case, Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha sponsored a bill for the Secretary of State’s office to eliminate the $2,000 limit.
“If you don’t allow them to commercially charge out-of-state large companies then you’re going to have to rely on taxpayers of Nebraska to subsidize the commercial enterprises outside the state,” he said.
But Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus questioned the need for the change. “Two thousand dollars to download something over the internet? That seems to be a really high limit the way it is. Why would we remove it? This piece of legislation and these fees set prior to 2003. With newer technology, things get cheaper over time, not more expensive,” he said.
Schumacher also raised the larger issue of how Nebraska contracts for electronic government services with a company in Kansas, saying that raises questions about “who owns electronic government.” That issue is not addressed in the bill.
Back on the question of fees, Grace Wilnerd of the Secretary of State’s Office said many of the older records are on paper. She said if anyone requested copies of all the records, that could require costly scanning. Nevertheless, lawmakers approved an amendment to keep the $2,000 limit in place.
The bill still contains another change the Secretary of State’s office says is more important, changing terminology regarding business records to make them more legally acceptable. Lawmakers adjourned for the day without reaching a vote on the bill.