President Barack Obama said Wednesday his administration has made no decision on whether a Canadian company can proceed with plans for a transnational oil pipeline to Texas. The Keystone/XL pipeline would carry oil derived from tar sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. The 1,700 mile pipeline would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman has called the Nebraska Unicameral into a special legislative session beginning on Nov. 1 in the hope of legislating the placement of the pipeline. As of now it is proposed to go across the Ogalalla/High Plains Aquifer. Heineman says it needs to be moved.
"I've been listening to Nebraskans very, very carefully over the past several months and I think most Nebraskans were in agreement that we support the pipeline but why would you put it over the aquifer and risk an oil spill or leak," Heineman said. "I've written to the President of the United States because that is the most important decision that is going to be made on this permit. If he'll deny the permit that will force a change in the route, because TransCanada wants this pipeline."
The proposed pipeline has prompted protests nationally. Demonstrators have been arrested in front of the White House and have been showing up at Obama fundraisers around the nation to press for a halt to the pipeline, period. Heineman says most agree with him that support is there for the pipeline, just not over a major source of water. So the special session will not only focus on this issue, but other pipeline projects in the future.
"I've come to the conclusion that in a very narrow way we could have a special session and see if we could find a legal and Constitutional manner in which we could impact the route of this pipeline and all future routes," Heineman said. "It's not just about this one, it will be all future oil pipeline routes. I believe we have a very narrow opportunity; we have to act before the President acts, that probably means by Thanksgiving. We have to realize that the Federal government can preempt state government and secondly they have the responsibility for safety. Having said that, again I want us to explore all opportunities and at the end of the day I'd rather have us come in special session even if we came to the conclusion at the end that there is nothing else we can do but we tried. We can tell Nebraskans we gave it our best effort."
On Wednesday, fourteen lawmakers sent a letter requesting that the State Department inspector general investigate the department's handling of the pipeline application. The State Department has jurisdiction over the pipeline because it crosses an international border. The special session of the Nebraska Unicameral is scheduled to last up to 10 days.