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Sep 7, 2011
In 2009, TransCanada built the Keystone I oil pipeline across East River. Now the private Canadian oil shipper wants to build a second big pipeline, Keystone XL, across West River.
In the two weeks before Labor Day, over 1200 people went to jail for peaceful sit-ins outside the White House to send their message that the Keystone XL pipeline poses grave environmental risks. During those protests, the State Department issued a report saying Keystone XL poses no such significant risks.
I see reason for concern about the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline. I’ve seen farmland torn up and poorly restored by construction of Keystone I. TransCanada predicted “a spill of 50 barrels or less occurring anywhere along the entire pipeline system is once every 65 years.” The pipeline had four leaks at South Dakota pumping stations in its first year of operation.
But I am just as concerned about a significant legal impact of the Keystone pipeline system: the use of eminent domain. Last month’s State Department report doesn’t mention eminent domain. Environmentalists mention eminent domain less than concerns about greenhouse gas emissions from extracting the tar sands oil that the Keystone pipeline system carries.
Imagine the situation:
A land agent for a foreign company knocks on your door. She says, “We want to use your land. For decades. Here’s a check.” You look at the plans, look at the check, and say, “Not interested.” The agent says, “You don’t get to say no. Either you sign today, or we get a judge to force you to sign.”
That’s eminent domain. That’s what a South Dakota judge in 2008 ruled TransCanada could do to South Dakota landowners.
Usually only the government can use eminent domain, and only for projects that serve a clear public interest. Keystone XL is a private project. It won’t transport South Dakota goods. It won’t bring more or cheaper oil to South Dakota; market analysts and TransCanada itself have said the pipeline will carry Canadian oil to the global export market and increase gas prices in the Midwest. The only beneficiaries of Keystone XL appear to be Chinese buyers and TransCanada’s stockholders.
Forget oil spills and greenhouse gases; Keystone XL threatens private property rights in South Dakota. That’s the message the State Department needs to hear when it takes public comment on Keystone XL at the Pierre Ramkota on September 29.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.