The Keystone Pipeline Encounters New Challenges — and New Faces

By Nick Fouriezos


Because there are bound to be some surprises along a 1,179-mile path. 

Central Nebraska is a westward trellis of tiny towns, each 10 miles or so from the next, built to service the steam engines that once fueled American manifest destiny. In between are interminable tracts of land, soybean and corn country, including the farm of Jim Carlson, whose family recently received an award for having seeded thousands of acres for more than a century. 

This morning, the 63-year-old Trump voter is wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt that reads “Pipeline Fighter #NOKXL.” He confesses his conversion came late. Back when the original proposed path for the pipeline didn’t cross his land, he believed, like many of his neighbors, that it was “good for America.” But after doing some research — and learning of a change in plans that had the tar sands oil jutting through a 3,800-foot stretch of his property — he says he changed his mind, rejecting a $307,000 offer from TransCanada and erecting a 2.8-kilowatt solar panel in the midst of his cornstalks. Now Carlson frets about the threat of global warming, riffing on the “frogs in a pot” line from Al Gore’s documentary on climate change An Inconvenient Truth.

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Native people from various tribes representing “Horse Nation” gather at the Capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the March to Give Keystone XL the Boot on Aug. 6. Their arrival was met with cheers from the crowd.

Source Maura Friedman for OZY

He is just one of the many disparate faces of opposition forming against the Keystone pipeline in Nebraska, the veritable last stand for activists who have raged against the controversial pipeline for years. Earlier this month, grannies from Kansas City were bused in by the Sierra Club, joining African-American protesters and Native American water protectors on horseback in Lincoln, where a series of state Public Service Commission hearings had begun. And while the national zeitgeist against the pipeline has been mostly environmental, the opposition here in the Cornhusker State has been joined by local farmers and ranchers who are fearful of poisoning their lands and skeptical of foreign companies claiming they can seize their property without a fight.


Then there are those who would discount their concerns. TransCanada argues the pipeline will bring jobs and tax riches to these plains, although residents note that most of those gigs will be in construction and, therefore, fleeting. Although State Senator Jim Smith says he is sensitive to property-rights concerns, he notes the environmental cost of not approving the pipeline would be worse: “The oil is going to be moved. It’s being moved today on railcars. The pipeline is a safer, certainly more efficient, means of transporting oil.”

The debate isn’t even settled on Carlson’s farm. Against a bleating chorus of moos, Luke, Jim’s 36-year-old son, expresses skepticism about his father’s worries over climate change. And while Luke is no fan of TransCanada’s attempts to run pipe through their land — he believes weeds that will sprout in its wake will harm their crop — he feels Jim should have bargained for, and accepted, a bigger payout. “I don’t think there’s anything to do to stop it,” Luke says.