Nebraska pipeline critic warns Canadian farmers

Landowners told to educate themselves on pros and cons

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Ben Gotschall is a beef producer, dairy farmer and poet.

However, he is also the energy director for an organization called Bold Nebraska and is likely best known for his work to stop TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline from going through the state.

Last week he was part of a Council of Canadians tour through Manitoba and Saskatchewan to protest TransCanada’s Energy East project, which would see an existing natural gas line converted and extended to carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to St. John, N.B., for export.

The pipeline would be able to move 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, but opponents say the existing pipeline is 40 years old, spills are inevitable and the risk is too great.

Gotschall said his opposition to Keystone stemmed from the risk to water and the way TransCanada conducted itself. He believes Canadian landowners should educate themselves about Energy East and the company.

“In Nebraska, we fought very hard against the taking of private land for a private company’s profit,” he said in an interview.

“ ‘No eminent domain for private gain’ was a big part of our messaging.”

He said many landowners sold their land to TransCanada because they believed the company when it said it could take their land whether they agreed or not.

He urged landowners who signed easements with the original pipeline that is now proposed as Energy East to find the documents and see if the terms still apply.

“In my opinion, if I was a landowner here I would be fighting tooth and nail to get a new easement with new terms with new payment that protects your interest for this type of product because 40 years ago they didn’t know what diluted bitumen was,” he said. “I would argue those easements don’t cover putting diluted bitumen” in that line.

However, he said water is the biggest issue when it comes to pipelines. He and Council of Canadians president Maude Barlow both said the question isn’t if there will be pipeline spill, but when.

The Keystone XL line was proposed to travel over the Ogallala aquifer, a shallow aquifer located under the U.S. Plains region, including Nebraska.

“It provides over 80 percent of the drinking water for the state,” Got-schall said. “It provides 30 percent of the agricultural irrigation water for our country.”

Nebraska irrigates more acres than any other state and is the top producer of red meat, he said.

Three in four jobs are directly related to agriculture in Nebraska, and the state has an agricultural economy of more than $22 billion. As a result, Gotschall said a $12 billion pipeline isn’t that significant when considering what losing part of the state’s agricultural production would mean.

The bitumen that is expected to move on Energy East would require the addition of chemicals such as benzene to push it through the line, making it of even greater concern.

Barlow said the pipeline would cross 1,000 waterways, which in Sask-atchewan includes South Saskatchewan River, Moose Jaw River and Swift Current Creek. It would also pass within 15 kilometres of Buffalo Pound Lake, which provides drinking water to Regina and Moose Jaw.

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