Following nearly a decade of legal struggles, denials from one president
and endorsements from another, the saga of the Keystone XL Pipeline looks
like it’s coming to close.
In the Rolling Stone feature on the current state of the Keystone XL pipeline, first proposed two presidents
ago, Helen Tanderup, discussed what the TransCanada land agent told her
and her husband, Art, about the pipeline.
“[T]he best thing since sliced bread,” said Helen, recounting
how the project was presented to them.
According to the Tanderups, the agent offered them good money, and promised
to restore the disturbed ground so close to its original state they wouldn’t
even know the line was there if they didn’t see the construction.
"Boy, by the time she got done you just wanted to jump up and salute
the American flag," said Art.
During this entire pitch, the agent clearly stated that the pipeline would
be transporting crude oil – but when Art did some research into
the project, he discovered that it wasn’t oil at all, but diluted bitumen.
In order to extract the bitumen, a semi-solid tar, oil companies first
need to bulldoze forests in order to access the oil-like product before
melting it out of the ground with superheated steam. The oil companies
then need to dilute the bitumen with byproducts of fracked natural gas
so it can be transported through a pipe to a refinery where it can be
cracked into crude oil with extreme heat and pressure.
No matter what product is transported along the pipeline, the biggest danger
remains the possible contamination of the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground
reservoir that provides about 30 percent of the irrigation water used
in the United States and drinking water for millions more.
"If that [pipeline] leaks," Art said, "it goes down into
the water table, and we aren't gonna know about it until something
When the Tanderups declined TransCanada’s offer, they were told that
it didn’t matter – the pipeline was getting built through
their property. Citing the
Fifth Amendment’s eminent domain clause, states have the power to seize private property for public use as long
as they pay a fair amount for it. Most states use this to build a public
utility like a hospital, road, school, etc. that clearly benefits the
local population. Pipelines, while they don’t provide the same public
benefits as these other types of project, are often granted these rights
"It's not like the government's saying, 'We're gonna
improve this highway so we need another 20 foot of land,' " Art
said. "That's what eminent domain is supposed to be for."
Not only will the farmers whose land could be seized not see a direct benefit
from the construction of the pipeline, TransCanada would control the easement
beyond the construction stage of the project. They would have the ability
to enter the land at any point and make any adjustments they deemed necessary,
even if it meant destroying crops. On top of that, if the landowner damaged
the pipeline in any way, they would be on the hook for any repair and
cleanup costs, as well as any revenue lost because of the damage.
Over the past few years, state legislatures and courts have started pushing
back against energy companies looking to use eminent domain to pave the
way for their pipelines. Attorney Brian Jorde who represents the Nebraska
landowners in their fight against TransCanada, said that he expects this
fight to make its way all the way up to the top of the United States legal system.
“[The issue of fossil-fuel companies using eminent domain] will be
before the Supreme Court again in some form," said Jorde.
No matter what the Nebraska Public Service Commission decides, the landowners
are committed to fighting for their rights until the bitter end.
"Money's nice, but it's not important," Art said. "If
one of your grandchildren drinks a drop of benzene, that's important.
If our grandchildren decide not to have children because they're worried
about the planet they'll grow up on, that's important."