LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — An attorney for Nebraska landowners who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline grilled one of the project's lead executives on Monday in a testy legal hearing before a state commission that is reviewing the proposal.
The hearing before the Nebraska Public Service Commission is the last major regulatory hurdle pipeline developer TransCanada faces in its nine-year quest to complete the $8 billion pipeline.
The 1,179-mile crude oil pipeline has faced relentless criticism from environmental groups, Native American tribes and a well-organized minority of Nebraska landowners who don't want the project cutting through their property. Business groups and some unions support the Keystone XL, saying it will provide jobs and property tax revenue for local governments.
The commission will decide whether to grant Calgary-based TransCanada's application for route approval for the pipeline through Nebraska, allowing the company to gain access to holdout landowners' property through eminent domain laws.
The hearing at a Lincoln hotel, which could run as long as five days, drew about 60 people on Monday. A digital billboard truck circled the block outside, flashing anti-pipeline messages.
If approved, the pipeline would transport oil from tar sand deposits of Alberta, Canada, through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines that feed Texas Gulf Coast refineries. It may also provide access for oil fields in North Dakota.
Attorney Dave Domina questioned TransCanada executive Tony Palmer about whether the company would cover cleanup and restoration costs in the event of a spill and remove the pipeline once it's no longer in use.
Domina also questioned whether TransCanada would agree to limits on how long the pipeline would remain in the ground if it's approved, an idea Palmer rejected.
"The commission should know that this route, if they want to permit it, doesn't have to be perpetual," Domina said. "It can be time-limited so the land can go back to the families."
Palmer said the company would pay for cleanup and restoration costs but might seek compensation from anyone who damages the pipeline. He said it's "very rare" to remove pipelines that have outlived their useful life, but some decommissioned pipelines are filled with an inert gas to keep them from corroding.
Palmer acknowledged under questioning that the company has not estimated the cost of removing the pipeline from the ground. TransCanada could use the pipeline for more than 20 years, but if well maintained, it should last at least 50, Palmer said.
"We fully expect this pipeline can provide service well beyond the commercial contract," Palmer said.
Domina also alluded to TransCanada's Bison Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline that ruptured outside of Gillette, Wyoming, in 2011, six months after it went into service. A few months prior to the explosion, the company had touted that pipeline for its adherence to strict safety standards.
James Powers, an attorney for TransCanada, objected to the statement and the commission's hearing officer declined to allow it.
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