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Nebraska central to Keystone fight

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- As the battle lines are being drawn over the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, Manitoba's oil and gas industry is focused on ground zero -- Nebraska.

There is no timetable for when a final decision will be made on the controversial multibillion-dollar project, which would connect Alberta crude to Texas refineries. It is still under review by the U.S. State Department and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, and there is no shortage of lobbying on both sides.

The more Manitoba oil that gets transported to the U.S., the higher the royalties, taxes and transfer payments to the province. As well, higher industry revenue will continue to boost the burgeoning oil and gas industry, centred around Virden.

Jamie Karl, vice-president of public affairs and policy at the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said the pipeline would benefit Nebraska in a number of ways, including lower property taxes, hundreds of construction jobs and safer movement of oil.

"We are a high-tax state. Any type of project that will provide property tax relief is welcomed by most Nebraskans," he said.

"I don't think anyone can argue with a straight face that pipelines aren't the safest method of transporting oil."

The chamber estimates the pipeline could provide $150 million in property revenue to local Nebraska governments over its lifetime and provide more than $11 million in state and local tax revenue during construction. (All figures U.S. dollars.)

Karl noted more than 33,000 kilometres of pipelines already criss-cross the state, including 4,800 kilometres of crude oil or liquid pipelines.

Manitoba already has the largest single conduit of oil into the U.S. flowing through the province, Keystone's first pipeline, which was built four years ago.

Seven Enbridge pipelines originating in Alberta enter Manitoba west of Virden, then continue southeastward along a single corridor towards Gretna where they cross into the U.S.

They can carry more oil than all of Canada uses and more than 10 per cent of what the U.S. uses.

U.S. President Barack Obama rejected TransCanada's first application in January 2012 amid protests about the pipeline's environmental impact on Nebraska's Sand Hills region. The company then changed the route to minimize the disturbance of land and water resources, which was approved by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman in January 2013.

One of the most outspoken opponents of the pipeline is Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, an advocacy group working with citizens and landowners to prevent TransCanada Pipeline from realizing its goal.

She said if farmers or ranchers don't want the pipeline to cross their property, it shouldn't be forced upon them against their will.

"Nebraskans have a deep tie to the land, especially where this pipeline would potentially go. Families have homesteaded the land and work it every day. They don't want to risk generations of livelihood for an export pipeline, especially (an oilsands one)," she said.


Geoff Kirbyson is touring the U.S. as part of a U.S. government program called U.S.-Canada: Partners in Economic Development.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 B6

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