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More Concerns with Keystone Pipeline [Nebraska]

Concerns raised at pipeline forum
Paul Fischer

Seward County residents had another opportunity on July 16 to hear discussion on the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline Project at a pipeline safety forum held at the Seward Civic Center.
The forum, hosted by the GFWC Seward Women's Club, Seward League of Women Voters and Seward Citizens on Pipeline Route Committee, consisted of several speakers-each given the floor for 18 minutes-followed by a question-and-answer period.
Speakers at the forum included Carl Weimer, executive director of the National Pipeline Safety Trust; Karen Butler of the Department of Transportation Office of Pipeline Safety; J. David Aiken, water and agricultural law specialist at the University of Nebraska; Joe Francis, associate director, Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality; and Buster Gray, representative for TransCanada.
Francis took the floor first, highlighting key environmental issues in regard to the proposed pipeline. He said an air construction permit is not required of the company because there are relatively few emissions involved with the pipeline. Francis emphasized that the potential for spills is the greatest concern, and it is important that all the general provisions of the Environmental Protection Act are met.
Francis was followed by Aiken, who said he had little knowledge of the issue, but after some research he concluded that most states do not regulate pipelines that enter their boundaries.
"I was spending some time with Google on the Internet, and I was able to find a few states that regulated transmission lines," he said. "I only found a handful, and that handful didn't regulate petroleum.
"The one thing I did come across was that even though the likelihood of a rupture or accident associated with a natural gas pipeline is very small, often times the ones that do occur are very serious. Those are the things that you have to keep in mind."
Next was Gray from TransCanada, who stressed the strict codes that pipelines follow when they are built.
"One unique aspect of our project is it crosses the international border [between Canada and the United States], which triggers a rigid regulatory process that we've been going through for 18 months," he said.
Gray also addressed concerns that the pipeline may cause damage to the environment, particularly the Ogallala Aquifer.
"The pipeline industry has been able to maintain facilities without destroying the environment," he said. "Even though there aren't studies to say such, the pipeline industry has an excellent safety record as a whole."
Other points in Gray's presentation included that the pipeline would be monitored on a 24-hour, seven day a week basis, the ability to rapidly shut the pipeline down or section of concern and the use of electronic sensors to detect damage or corrision as well as other issues in the pipeline. Gray also emphasized the benefits to Seward County: TransCanada estimates $5.5 million in tax revenues to Nebraska in the first year, and employment opportunities would be available to the local community.
Weimer took the podium next, and presented a slideshow that demonstrated "The good, the bad and the ugly" of pipelines. He said an experience with a burst pipeline in 1999 in his hometown of Belingham, Wash. alerted him to the danger of pipelines. The incident claimed the lives of three young men.
"Pipeline safety is like a three-legged stool," he said. "If one stool is missing, the system fails. The leg missing in that case was the public and local government."
Weimer commended TransCanada, saying he has worked with them before with pipeline safety issues and said they are "really upfront" in the negotiation process.
However, he explained that-among their safety detection techniques-they can only detect a leak that is two to three percent of what is running through the pipeline. That means a large leak could occur undetected.
Weimer was followed by Butler, who gave an overview of PHMSA and its growth over the past two years. It currently regulates 64 percent of all energy products consumed annually in the U.S.
When asked about the importance of such public forums, Jeff Rauh of TransCanada said dialogue was the key.
"It's a great opportunity to hear from different perspectives. We like to hear from folks in the Seward community, and we appreciate them coming out to hear us. We look forward to working through the regulatory process."
Rauh said those interested in contacting TransCanada with questions can call them at 1-866-717-7473.
Following the forum, Weimer said it is important that both the local government and the public have a say in the decision-making process of planning the pipeline.
"They can make this pipeline safer than it currently goes," he said.

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