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    In Less Than 30 Days, the Final Battle Over Keystone XL Will Begin

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    The nation's most infamous oil pipeline is winding its way out of the shadows again. While the mainstream media has ignored the civil disobedience movement against the Keystone XL in Texas, where protesters have diligently obstructed construction of its southern leg, it's not going to ignore this: Nebraska's environmental agency has completed a review of a new route that ropes the pipeline through "less sensitive areas." And it essentially gives the go-ahead. The state's governor, Dave Heineman, now has 30 days to grant it his final seal of approval.

    If you recall, opposition from Nebraska's conservative state government, and its Republican governor, was instrumental in leading the Obama administration to delay the pipeline pending further review from the State Department. So was organized protest in D.C., where thousands of citizens gathered at the White House to oppose the pipeline; hundreds were arrested in a series of peaceful demonstrations.

    The 1,700 mile pipeline would pump tar sands oil—an exceptionally dirty and difficult-to-extract kind of bitumen—from Alberta, Canada to refineries around the Gulf Coast. That bitumen requires a much more energy-intensive process to refine, and thus generates far more carbon emissions than typical crude, which is why concerned scientists and environmentalists refer to the Keystone as a "carbon bomb." The original route took the pipeline straight through the sensitive Sand Hills region, as wells as the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, an important source of the state's drinking water. It also plowed through farmer's land, endangering their crops and livelihoods.

    The new route reportedly swerves around Sand Hills, still hits Ogallala, but TransCanada, the company behind the whole thing, says the Keystone now avoids areas with sensitive soil and areas with shallow groundwater stores. But even if it does, the pipeline still poses a serious threat to the aquifer and those supposedly less-sensitive lands; TransCanada has a nasty spill record, and oil leakage remains likely.

    And Heineman's decision will no doubt drag the whole "debate" (which is basically: we need oil, jobs! vs. it's a carbon bomb, a threat to the environment, and the jobs are so few!) back onto the national stage. It will force Obama to again take a stance on the northern leg of the pipeline, and early indicators seem to say he'll support it. He would have approved the thing without thinking twice, remember, if the green movement and its allies hadn't raised hell.

    The storm is gathering once more, in other words, and if Heineman signs off on it, the opposition will have lost a powerful ally. And given Obama's campaign-long emphasis on increasing oil production, it would be unsurprising if he OK'd the project—we're all well aware of how much the man strives to be seen as a great compromiser.

    Meanwhile, that aforementioned civil disobedience movement is continuing its campaign to halt the southern leg of the Keystone XL, which began construction last year. Environmental activists, property rights advocates, and conservatives about to get booted off their land have all been throwing their opposition—and their bodies—in the way of the pipeline. There was a tree blockade—protesters built structures and lived in the tree cover in a plot of land slated for razing—that halted progress for weeks, before TransCanada was forced to build around it.

    Now there's another one. A new tree blockade has been erected in a new location, and the activists have pledged to do it again if need be. Here they are setting up shop under the cover of night:

    Hundreds more activists are planning on converging upon the pipeline in coming weeks, and more mass demonstrations are planned. This is old-school environmental protest, and while it may not ultimately stop the pipeline, it's certainly giving TransCanada hell. This time, major media outlets might consider telling those protesters' story, too, instead of rehashing talking points from the oil execs and focusing on political opinion on the Hill. 

    Regardless, the battle over the Keystone XL is about to go nationwide. Again.

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    Topics: Oil, tar sands, keystone XL, energy

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