Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Keystone XL pipeline officials quizzed in Nebraska hearings

Attorney Jim Powers, representing TransCanada, center, makes a remark during the testimony of Tony Palmer, TransCanada senior vice-president, unseen, before the Nebraska Public Service Commission in Lincoln, Neb., Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.

Nati Harnik/AP

An attorney representing opponents of TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline grilled the company's representatives during hearings in Nebraska on Monday, in proceedings that mark the last big hurdle for the long-delayed project.

The proposed 1,179-mile (1,897-km) pipeline linking Canada's Alberta oil sands to U.S. refineries has been a lightning rod of controversy for nearly a decade, pitting environmentalists worried about spills and global warming against business advocates who say the project will lower fuel prices, shore up national security and bring jobs.

President Donald Trump's administration handed TransCanada a federal permit for the pipeline in March, reversing a decision by former President Barack Obama to reject the project on environmental grounds. But the line still needs a nod from regulators in Nebraska – which would be the last of three states to approve its proposed path into the heartland.

Story continues below advertisement

For subscribers: U.S. Indigenous leaders rally against Canadian pipelines

A lawyer for opponents of the line opened the hearing in front of the five-member Nebraska Public Service Commission on Monday morning by questioning an executive for the Canadian company about how the pipeline will be disposed of after its anticipated 50-year lifetime.

"Do we have to clean up TransCanada's abandoned pipeline?" attorney David Domina asked TransCanada executive Tony Palmer, who responded that the company would pay for cleanup.

Later, Domina had a tense exchange with Ernie Goss, an economist who was paid by TransCanada to look at the economic impact of the pipeline, after Goss said he did not have a source for some economic data he cited during the hearing.

"An economist would generally look that up and have a source," Domina said.

Nebraska's Public Service Commission will weigh whether the project is in the state's public interest, and will announce a decision by November.

Proponents of the pipeline will argue the project will bring in hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. Trump has said the pipeline would create 28,000 jobs nationwide, but a 2014 State Department study predicted just 3,900 construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs.

Story continues below advertisement

TransCanada would also pay property taxes to Nebraska counties through which the pipeline would run. While the state has no estimate of Keystone XL pipeline's potential taxable value, an existing TransCanada line in Nebraska had a taxable value for the state of about $466-million in 2016, said Jon Cannon, a manager of the policy and legal section of the state's property assessment division.

The arguments of opponents are constrained by the rules of the commission, which is not permitted to consider the risk of spills because the route already has an environmental permit.

Instead, the opponents – who include scores of landowners on the proposed route – will argue the jobs are temporary and the risks to local industries like cattle ranching are too great. They will also note that if the commission approves the line, TransCanada could seek to seize property along the route using eminent domain law – a politically unpalatable option in the conservative state.

Landowner Ken Prososki, whose farm and ranch land is on the pipeline route and who opposes the project, expressed frustration at the drawn-out fight.

"It's an interesting process. I'll put it that way," he said.

On Sunday, hundreds of pipeline opponents, including members of Indian tribes, marched through downtown Lincoln under police escort, following a rally at the Nebraska Capitol.

Story continues below advertisement

The 830,000 barrel-per-day Keystone XL would link Alberta to an existing pipeline network feeding U.S. refineries and ports along the Gulf of Mexico.

The project could be a boon for Canada, which has struggled to bring its reserves to market. But demand for the line has declined since it was first proposed, due to surging U.S. production, lower prices, and other Canadian pipeline projects.

Video: Three issues likely to be key for Canada in NAFTA negotiations (The Canadian Press)
Report an error

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at