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Keystone XL

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.


10:06 am - Wed, September 7 2011
John Andrews said:
Sounds like the perfect chance to resurrect the United Family Farmers, the group that successfully derailed the Oahe Irrigation Project in the 1970s.
03:03 pm - Wed, September 7 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
I give a lot of credit to Nebraska's GOP governor, Dave Heineman (sp?) for speaking out against the pipeline's proposed course, due to the fragile sandhills and the aquifer. But anyone who's seen the sandhills knows the problem: They have a very thin layer of topsoil, and when it is disturbed the sand blows like it does on a beach, causing immediate erosion.

Hopefully the SD state legislature will start to look more closely at the issue. In the past, we've only argued over cleanup funds and whether TC should qualify for tax breaks.
07:21 pm - Wed, September 7 2011
Gov. Heineman and Senator Johanns, both Republicans, have spoken up in defense of the Sandhills and local landowners. They do deserve credit. I'm disappointed I haven't heard more South Dakota politicians advocating for South Dakota's interests against Keystone XL. I certainly want to see more push to hold TransCanada accountable for future problems on our land... but I'd also like to see a little more resistance up front.

John -- the UFF! There's some history the kids need to hear more of in school!
11:00 am - Sun, September 11 2011
Jim Lane said:
Any land agent statement as described in Mr. Heidelberger’s imaginary dialogue would probably be viewed as coercion. If proven this makes the easement invalid.
The ''threat'' of eminent domain was also present during the construction of every road, highway, water, power or sewer line we enjoy the use of today. Such remarks may well encourage the resistance longed for by people without skin in the game. Unfortunately the longtime country dwellers most likely to feel the consequences seldom have the resources to defend themselves in a conflict with a multinational corporation. From personal experience I would suggest any landowner make his concerns known through open discussion. Everything is negotiable and anyone who says otherwise is lying.

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