Some Nebraska landowners told lawmakers Wednesday that they were bullied and threatened by representatives of a Canadian company seeking land to build an oil pipeline through the state.
Members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee heard from Lynda Buoy, president of Holt-Rock County Farmers Union, who presented a letter to the group from one resident in her area who said a TransCanada representative pressured her into signing away part of her land to the company.
“They’ve threatened county zoning boards with lawsuits. They’re using threats of eminent domain to pressure landowners,’’ Buoy said. “My livelihood, my way of life, as well as my neighbors’, is being threatened.’’
Buoy was among a throng of Nebraska landowners, environmentalists and others who traveled to the state capital to voice their support for three bills that would regulate and oversee interstate oil pipelines that venture into Nebraska.
The bills are aimed at plans by TransCanada to construct the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada through several states, including Nebraska, to Texas oil refineries. It would course over parts of the massive Ogallala aquifer, which supplies drinking water to about 2 million people in eight states and supports irrigation.
A bill (LB340) by State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton calls for companies proposing to own, operate or manage an oil pipeline in Nebraska to file an application with the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
The company would also have to submit pre-filed testimony and exhibits in support of the application and establish proof of environmental and economic impact studies showing that the proposed pipeline serves the public interest.
The proposed pipeline would also be subject to public meetings and a public hearing conducted by the Public Service Commission. If the commission denies the company’s application, the company could not exercise eminent domain to acquire rights-of-way for the pipeline.
Bills (LB578 and LB629) by Sens. Ken Haar of Malcolm and Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids would require pipeline companies to show proof of financial responsibility to cover the costs of cleanup of spills, as well as all costs of restoring the land disturbed by pipeline construction and in cases where the pipe is abandoned.
The committee heard from dozens of people–through testimony and letters submitted into the record–who supported more state oversight of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska.
Jay Wolf, a rancher from Albion who also spoke on behalf of the Nebraska Cattlemen, told the committee that his questions to various federal agencies about who would be responsible for the costs of cleanup and restoration if the pipe were abandoned have gone unanswered.
“So it looks to me like I get to inherit the mess. I don’t think that’s fair,’’ Wolf said.
Another person whose family owns land near Seward begged the committee to advance the bills.
Susan Lubbe told the committee that a TransCanada official seeking to buy easements from her family repeatedly lied about neighbors having signed land-purchase agreements with TransCanada. Lubbe said the agent also recently threatened to sue her family if they didn’t sign an agreement.
“We cannot fight this alone. Will you please help us?’’ she asked.
TransCanada officials have insisted the pipeline would be the best and safest pipeline ever built, and some who testified Wednesday expressed surprise over testimony from landowners about threats and bullying.
“I’ve been with the company almost 30 years–that’s not how our company treats landowners; I was disappointed hearing what I heard today,’’ said Jim Krause, an operations manager with TransCanada. “We want to make sure we have long-term, positive relationships with the landowner.’’
Krause and others with an interest in the proposed pipeline testified against the bills.
Most objected on the grounds that the bills simply duplicate federal requirements TransCanada has already met and that requiring state regulation now would delay construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“This is akin to changing the rules of the game late in the fourth quarter,’’ said Paul Fuhrer, a manager with TransCanada and a native of Nebraska. “We have one of the best operating records in the industry, because we take safety seriously.’’