Pipeline Sparks Emotional Hearing - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

Pipeline Sparks Emotional Hearing

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Battle lines are drawn in an international dispute over oil, with central Nebraska at the center of the fight. With one shot to be heard, emotions run high as Nebraskans speak for and against the Keystone XL pipeline.

"We don't want any tar sands," they sang as they trudged through the snow.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline raised their voices, and struck up the band (a polka band), hoping to be heard by President Obama.

Randy Thompson asked, "Is he going to raise the heavy hand of big oil or is he going to raise the hand and spirit of the American people?"

Pipeline critics appeared to outnumber supporters three to one. But project backers think the numbers are in their favor.

A representative of the American Petroleum institute said, "We believe the project is a job creator. The department found construction of KXL will support 42,000 jobs, putting $2 billion in workers pockets over the next two years."

And they pledge it'll be safe.

Corey Goulet, TransCanada's Vice President for the Keystone project said, "KXL will have minimal impact on the environment."

Supporters said it would be the safest pipeline ever built.

But critics say the pipeline still poses a threat to Nebraska.

John Hansen of Nebraska Farmers Union said, "Entire route is entirely on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, largest underground water resource not only in the state, but the nation."

Tribal leaders say it violates their sovereignty. Some farmers say it could pollute their land.

But others argue farmers need oil as much as anyone.

State department officials say they knew what to expect from the testimony.

 Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State said, "We know there are a lot of people for and against the project. What's substantial, what else needs to be done to make sure we're doing the best process we possibly can."

For proof they've been listening, state department leaders say look no further than this hearing. But they caution this is far from over.

Once this environmental review is complete, they still have to decide if it's in the national interest and there's no telling when President Obama will make that decision.

"I wouldn't guess at a date right now," Jones said.

From here, the State Department says they will finalize the environmental study.

Then it's on to the next phase, deciding if it's in the national interest, a process they say will involved eight federal bureaucracies before the president makes his decision.

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