By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The much fought-over Keystone XL oil pipeline will begin construction in Oklahoma and Texas, despite having been denied a presidential permit for the entire 1,700 mile project.

The Obama Administration had rejected the project in November 2011, saying more study and a possible re-routing was needed in Nebraska where the route slices through the Sandhills region above the Ogallala Aquifer.

But it welcomed the latest move by pipeline operator TransCanada to complete a portion of the route between Cushing, Okla., and refineries in the Houston area. That portion of the pipeline will relieve a bottleneck of domestic oil supplies, according to the company, a move the White House appeared to endorse in this statement from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

“Moving oil from the Midwest to the world-class, state-of-the-art refineries on the Gulf Coast will modernize our infrastructure, create jobs, and encourage American energy production.”

TransCanada has said it owns 99 percent of the easements it needs to construct this portion of the pipeline, which it estimates will create 4,000 jobs.

Some Texans, though, are not pleased about how the Canadian company as exercised eminent domain to claim need rights-0f-way.

Julia Trigg Crawford, whose been fighting the oil company’s plans to lay pipeline across her family’s property, told StateImpact Texas upon hearing the news Monday that it was “a sad day today, but not unexpected.”

A restraining order protecting Crawford’s property was dissolved by a district judge in northeast Texas on Friday, but she still holds hope that her legal challenge to TransCanada’s status as a “common carrier” — required for it to claim property — will be addressed. The matter is set for a court hearing on April 30, also in district court in Lamar County.

Crawford has argued that the pipeline traversing her property will damage the tillable soil because the pipeline can become heated to 140 degrees, which will kill beneficial microbes and create a “vegetative dead zone” on her farm land. (For more details see StateImpact Texas’ article “The Pipeline vs. the Farmer.” She has been supported by several land rights advocates.

Environmentalists have protested the Keystone XL pipeline, staging two major protests at the White House in late 2011 and several online petitions, because they see the tar sands oil fields in Canada as devastating the environment. The tar sands mining requires large volumes of water that cannot be recovered, leaves behind vast lakes of toxic tailings, destroys forests and creates double the carbon pollution of traditional crude oil extraction, they say.

Climate champion Dr. James E. Hansen has said that turning to tar sands oil is a highly polluting way to extend our use of fossil fuels, spelling “game over” for the planet, because of the massive carbon emissions involved and the continued reliance on dirty fuel.

The opposition to Keystone gained ground when many Nebraskans questioned the routing through the delicate Sandhills, where the pipeline will be situated directly over the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation’s large source of underground water. A leak in that region could quickly contaminate water that supplies 80 percent of Nebraska, and helps irrigate farms across the plains.

The Nebraska legislature and Republican Gov. Dave Heineman, got involved in the fall, asking for time for a re-routing. That prompted President Obama to say more study was needed to assure the project protected the health of Americans, despite a favorable report on the pipeline from the State Department (a report tainted by charges of favoritism and inside influence peddling).

The southern leg of the Keystone XL will cost about $2.3 billion. Construction will begin immediately with completion targeted for early 2013, according to TransCanada, which has reapplied for a permit to build the rest of the pipeline — from Alberta to Cushing. The northern segment could be approved within a year, and completed by 2015.

Advocates of the pipeline, and operator TransCanada, argue that bringing tar sands oil to the US will help supply America with more oil from an ally, reducing reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

But opponents say that the pipeline route, and other indicators, such as the fact that US oil supplies are up and consumption is down, suggests that the Canadian tar sands oil will be bound for international markets, via Houston-area refineries.

Many environmentalists also lament that the ancient boreal forests lost to tar sands production in Alberta will drive down caribou, bear and wolf populations, while raising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, hastening climate change.

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