Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Keystone Pipeline from Ab. Tarsands could Decimate 220 acre Kansas Nature Preserve

Oil pipeline could bisect preserve
The Wichita Eagle

Plans to extend an oil pipeline through Kansas have some people concerned it could encroach on the Chaplin Nature Center near Arkansas City.

TransCanada energy company says it was not aware of the center when it created the preliminary pipeline route, which goes through the 220-acre preserve.

Now that the company knows about the concerns, "we are currently reviewing alternatives to this routing," said Shela Shapiro, communications specialist for TransCanada.

The TransCanada Keystone Pipeline Project would stretch more than 200 miles across Kansas from Washington County through central Kansas to the Cowley County border. It is part of a 1,070-mile project running from western Canada to Oklahoma. The project is estimated to cost $2.1 billion.

The company plans to bury the 30-inch oil pipeline 4 feet below ground. It would clear a path 110 feet wide during construction, and then keep a 50-foot swatch clear for maintenance.

Ninety percent of the pipeline would be on agricultural land.

Survey stakes on property to the north and south of Chaplin are in exact alignment with the center's property, which has made Kansas birders uneasy.

The Chaplin Nature Center is a gentle mix of forest, flood plain, native grasses and limestone bluffs. It is home to more than 200 species of birds, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, armadillos and deer.

Bald eagles winter on the refuge, and in the spring, great crested flycatchers and pileated woodpeckers nest.

"Out of all the millions of acres of land, they had to hit our 220 acres," said Patty Marlett, president of the Wichita Audubon Society, which owns the Chaplin Nature Center.

Marlett said the survey stakes concerned her.

If the company gets federal approval for the project, "if they wanted to go through, they could," Marlett said. "But we would take them to court and fight for all we are worth."

TransCanada spokeswoman Shapiro said the preliminary route was "simply selected using the best 'desktop' information available at that time including variables such as commercial market access, avoidance of high population areas, economic viability, etc.... The company was not aware of Chaplin's existence when those maps were made."

"Keystone is committed to working with landowners now, during construction and in the future," she said. "We seek to develop positive relationships with landowners based on trust, open communication and honesty. Although Keystone will have the right to use eminent domain, that is not how we would like to construct the project."

Eminent domain allows the government to seize and buy land needed for the public good. Roads or utilities would be reasons to obtain eminent domain.

If the pipeline came through Chaplin, Marlett said it would destroy the forest vegetation.

"It would be really ugly and be a big hole through the middle of the property," she said.

The swath would affect the nesting of forest birds and give predators an advantage, said the center's naturalist, Shawn Silliman.

"We don't know what's going on," Silliman said. "We are worried if we wait too long to do something, there will be nothing we can do. At the same time, we don't want to overreact."

Shapiro said the company is "still actively considering routes."

"Because nothing has been finalized, we are not in a position to provide specifics on alternatives," she said.

The Keystone project has already been rerouted in other states, including around some tribal lands in Oklahoma, according to Elizabeth Orlando, international affairs officer for the State Department.

Federal regulatory approval of the route is expected in November; a presidential permit is expected in early 2008.

Four public meetings concerning the pipeline were held in Kansas last year. As the project progresses, there will be more meetings and chances for landowners and the public to comment, Shapiro said.

Keystone is expected to file an application with the Kansas Corporation Commission this summer. And later this year, negotiations with landowners could start.

Dale Steward, Cowley County engineer, said county officials have yet to receive a location map of where the pipeline will go. Because the pipeline will be buried under several blacktop roads, county commissioners will also have to approve the process.

The pipeline could carry as much as 435,000 barrels daily. The company hopes to complete it by the end of 2010.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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