Bold Resistance to Nebraska KXL Pipeline

Written by Art Tanderup
Edited by Alison M Jones, NWNL Director
Photos by Alison M Jones

NWNL INTRO: For 35 years, Art Tanderup worked as a Nebraska Public School educator.  When he and his wife Helen (a student services consultant at a community college for years) retired, they returned to their family farm near Neligh, Nebraska. There they practice no-till farming, plant cover crops, use soil sensors to use less irrigation water, and other conservation practices.

Jones_170615_NE_4795-2.jpgSign protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline, Nebraska

In late spring 2012, TransCanada announced its “Keystone XL Preferred Route” for carrying tar-sands oil across Nebraska in a hypotenuse-type of shortcut to join the original Keystone 1 oil pipeline [KPL]. This proposed line would run from new Canadian oil fields to the existing KPL line already carrying Canadian oil from other fields to the Gulf of Mexico to be refined for export.

TransCanada was ready with land agents to convince farmers and ranchers across the state to give over the easements the company needed. Yet landowners were uneducated about a tar-sands pipeline that would forever threaten their land and water.

Screen-Shot-2017-11-20-at-11.06.59-AM-768x592.pngTransCanda map of Proposed KXL Routes from November 2017

There are many reasons to be opposed to tar sands extraction and pipelines. The greatest reason is its threat to clean water. If the pipeline leaks, it could pollute the Ogallala Aquifer (aka The Great Plains Aquifer) which covers 8 states from southern South Dakota to Texas. In northern Nebraska, this aquifer’s water table is vulnerably close to the surface, and sometimes above the surface. Many Ogallala springs, streams and rivers carry this precious water across the area known as the Eastern Sandhills to irrigate Nebraska farmland. One pipeline leak in these porous soils could decimate the worlds largest freshwater aquifer.

Why would any company or government agency allow the threat of a tar sands pipeline to be built through this pristine area, when none of the oil would help the US as it was for export abroad?  Well, for TransCanada, it is the shortest distance between two points. For the US government, there has been a great lack of awareness of the potential risks. 

Jones_170615_NE_4893.jpgKeystone XL Pipeline protest sign on the Tanderup Farm

A stewardship group named Bold Nebraska quickly become involved in an anti-pipeline educational campaign. They formed a landowners’ group named the Nebraska Easement Action Team / NEAT. The Domina Law Group took on the challenge of educating landowners on all legal aspects.  Using an approach some landowners likened to that of a “used car salesperson,” TransCanada was able to get easements on approximately 90% of the farms and ranches due to lucrative payouts.

Jane Kleeb, Chairman of Bold Nebraska, began engaging and supporting landowners bt showing up and speaking at every hearing. Telling their stories to the media was also extremely important. In early fall of 2013, landowners and other anti-pipeline individuals made their statement by building a solar- and wind-powered barn, placed directly in the path of the pipeline.

Jones_170615_NE_5140-2.jpgKeystone XL Pipeline protest sign on the Tanderup Farm

The Cowboy Indian Alliance reappeared from its early days of resistance to the KPL to again “kill the black snake.”  A “Trail of Tears” Spirit Camp brought tribal relatives together with pipeline fighters to the Tanderup Farm where they actively and creatively resisted KXL efforts. In April 2014, an 80-acre display of “crop art’ was created on the Tanderup Farm. Right after that, “Reject and Protect” events were held in Washington, DC. As well, 137-year-old sacred corn of the Ponca Indians was discovered and planted in the path of KXL on the Tanderup Farm.  In September 2014, Willie Nelson and Neil Young led a “Harvest the Hope” concert on the Tanderup Farm. The message was strong and clear: “President Obama must reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Jones_170615_NE_4911.jpgPonca Tribe’s sacred Harvest Corn planted on Tanderup farm

In January 2015, TransCanada initiated its eminent domain proceedings and the Domina Law Group worked to stop their actions via the court system. In May, artist John Quigley used a 27-acre field on the Tanderup farm for a second crop art message to President Obama.  When President Obama rejected KXL’s application to use eminent domain against the landowners, all involved with Bold Nebraska cheered. In celebration, artist John Quigley returned in May 2016 to create an 80-acre “crop art” display, titled “100% Clean Energy Ready.”

Jones_170616_NE_4995.jpgSign for the “Energy Barn” built in 2013 on proposed Keystone XL route by “pipeline fighters”

January 2017 brought forward our worst fears. After inauguration, President Trump quickly approved KXL. A speedy and flawed environmental review gave TransCanada a “full speed ahead” card, and TransCanada quickly filed its planned route with the Nebraska Public Service Commission [PSC].

Per Nebraska Pipeline Siting Rules, TransCanada submitted a “Preferred Route” and two other possible routes they had studied. Their proposed “Mainline Alternative Route” still had its first 100 miles on entering Nebraska (from S. Dakota) also over the Ogallala Aquifer and crossing the Eastern Sandhills to Nebraska’s Elkhorn River.

In protest, 3 solar arrays were built. One stood in the path of KXL and two were in northern Nebraska. Known collectively as “Solar XL,” they brought attention to the need for clean energy over dirty fossil fuels.  A fourth solar array is planned for Spring 2019 on the “Mainline Alternative Route.”

SolarXL2018-MapGraphic_LARGE-1080x720.jpgSolar XL installations on the KXL Route, Courtesy of Bold Nebraska

Prior to the Public Service Commission 4-day hearing, pipeline fighters from across the Americas held a huge rally and march in Lincoln. At the hearing, testimonies were given by pro-pipeline groups and individuals, as well as anti-pipeline landowners, tribes, environmentalists and experts.

On November 2017, the “Preferred Route” was denied, but the “Mainline Alternative Route” was approved, with its first 100 miles into northern Nebraska running through the Eastern Sandhills where the aquifer is very close to the surface. The rest of this new route, a major portion, parallels the existing Keystone 1 pipeline (KPL).

TransCanada wasted no time in sending out their land agents for easements along this new route. Bold Nebraska and NEAT began holding informational meetings for these newly-impacted landowners. About 60% of landowners on this route had signed easements for first 100 miles, since they were either part of the old “Preferred Route” or where KXL twins Keystone 1. Most of the “new” landowners, having had more time to hear the pro’s and con’s, are not signing up.

Jones_170615_NE_4867.jpgArt and Helen Tanderup in front of sign from protest at Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool in DC

Those landowners challenged the decision with support from the tribes and other groups. On November 1, 2018, the Nebraska Supreme Court held a hearing on this case.  While it involves many issues, the main one is that TransCanada has not granted due process to the new landowners on the “Mainline Alternative Route.” A decision is expected anytime.

There is a second court case in the Federal Court of Great Falls, Montana, The judge had ruled that there had been no full Environmental Impact Study [EIS], and therefore TransCanada couldn’t engage in any pre-construction activities. TransCanada and the US State Department have challenged both decisions.

Jones_170615_NE_4920.jpgArt and Helen Tanderup on farm where Ponca Tribe’s sacred Harvest Corn is planted, located on proposed Keystone XL pipeline route

Meanwhile, in June 2018, the Ponca Nation has joined this land and water conflict as a new party. The Tanderups deeded 10 acres of their farm to the Ponca Nation – the Northern and Southern Ponca Tribes- at the fifth planting of the Sacred Ponca Corn. Part of this deeded land (where the Ponca’s Sacred Corn has been planted) is directly in the pipeline path. Another portion is on the historic Ponca “Trail of Tears.” So now, as rightful landowners, the Ponca have a legal voice in this battle.

Over the past several years, a strong group of farmers, ranchers, Native Americans, and environmentalists have banded together. They have kept the Keystone XL pipeline out of the ground. They continue to stand up to protect the water, the land and the people. Their resistance against the Keystone XL pipeline is an ongoing story.

Jones_170616_NE_4960.jpgArt Tanderup being interviewed by NWNL Director Alison M Jones

NWNL Addendum:  On February 16 a federal court upheld a November ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. According to Bold Nebraska reporting, this latest ruling “further delayed the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by reaffirming that TransCanada cannot conduct any construction activity on the controversial tar sands pipeline and continuing to block most pre-construction field activities, including construction of worker camps.” The federal ruling also portends that TransCanada is unlikely to succeed on its appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

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