Public hearing on controversial pipeline project will be held in Topeka

Several of Kansas’ largest environmental groups plan to protest the massive and controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project when they rally outside of a public hearing in Topeka on Monday.

Next week, the U.S. State Department will hold public hearings in eight cities stretching from Montana to Texas on TransCanada’s proposed 1,700-mile, $7 billion pipeline project. The pipeline will more than double the amount of crude oil being transported from the oil sand fields of Canada to the refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Part of that massive pipeline already runs through Kansas, but it hasn’t been built in other states.

Before the pipeline can be built, a presidential permit must be issued, a process that is being overseen by the U.S. State Department. Part of that process includes taking public comments.

Monday’s hearings will be from noon to 3 p.m. and then from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Kansas Expocentre, 1 Expocentre Drive, Topeka.

Outside of the Expocentre, protesters plan to hold a rally at 3:30 p.m. Among those opposing the pipeline are the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy, Kansas Young Democrats, CREDO and Kansas Interfaith Power and Light.

Extracting oil from tars sand is among the dirtiest forms of energy, said Kendall Mackey, a grass-roots organizer for the National Wildlife Federation. Groups such as the National Wildlife Federation would like for the oil to be replaced with clean energy sources.

They also have concerns that once it reaches the refineries in the Gulf Coast, the oil will be shipped overseas and that TransCanada has a poor track record of oil spills.

“This is a national issue focused around America’s dependence on foreign oil,” Mackey said.

Monday’s rally will be an opportunity for those who want to speak outside the hearing, whether it be through words or signs.

Inside the hearing room, those signs will be forbidden. Those interested in speaking will sign up at the door. Each speaker should have three to five minutes to speak, but that could change if there are a large number of people who wish to speak.

All hearings are chaired by a senior official from the state department, who will explain the status of the permit and the department’s process for making a decision. The presiding officer will not answer questions. For those who don’t wish to speak, comments can be submitted in writing.

Regardless of the state department’s decision, the pipeline in Kansas won’t change, but two pumping stations could be built. Last summer, TransCanada laid pipeline through Kansas to connect Steele City, Neb., with Cushing, Okla. That pipeline travels through Washington, Clay, Dickinson, Marion, Butler and Cowley counties.

The current approval process is for two expansion projects. One starts in Hardisty, Alberta, Canada, and travels through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. Another phase would take oil from Oklahoma south to Texas. The pipeline that already runs through Kansas would connect those two projects.

Representatives for TransCanada have said that the company is going above and beyond what is required for safety and integrity. They also noted that Canada has far more stringent environmental regulations than other foreign countries supplying the U.S. with oil, such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

By Christine Metz

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