Bill seeks protection of water resources

The Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Nov. 9 on a bill that would prohibit pipeline routing in sensitive environmental areas in Nebraska.

LB5, introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, would adopt the Oil Pipeline Certificate of Authorization Act. The bill would require the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) to evaluate applications for oil pipelines larger than eight inches in diameter.

In addition, the bill would prohibit any pipeline under the Act’s jurisdiction from traversing any portion of a geographic exclusion zone. The bill defines an exclusion zone as a geographical area in Nebraska in any part of a watershed that feeds directly or indirectly into a cold water class A stream or in which ground water depth is 10 feet or less below ground for a distance of 10 miles or more.

The bill would require the PSC to issue a certificate of authorization within 30 days for oil pipelines that do not cross an exclusion zone.

Haar said the bill is patterned after similar North Dakota legislation and would protect the Ogallala aquifer, trout-breeding streams and groundwater.

“The purpose [of the bill] is to protect the state’s environmental resources and establish and efficient method for processing of all applications,” Haar said.

Bonnie Kruse of the League of Women Voters of Nebraska testified in support of the bill. Federal officials may not know what to look for when analyzing local environmentally sensitive areas for pipeline routing, she said.

“No one knows the land better than Nebraskans,” Kruse said. “Today you see the result of the chasm that Nebraska has regarding pipeline regulation.”

Rob Schupbach of Lincoln also supported the bill. Nebraska currently has laws protecting trout streams from contamination by livestock waste control facilities, he said, and should extend that protection to include oil pipelines.

Trout fishing brings $211 million in tourism dollars to the state, Schupbach said, and the groundwater that feeds the streams comes from sandy soil that is vulnerable to contamination.

Robert Jones of TransCanada testified in opposition to the bill, saying it specifically targets the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s route through the Sandhills.

“Passing this bill would mean the majority of the state would be off-limits to pipelines,” Jones said, noting that over 15,000 miles of pipeline already cross the Ogallala aquifer.

Brigham McCown, former pipeline safety inspector, also testified against the bill. He said federal environmental safety reviews are more than sufficient to ensure protection of Nebraska’s water resources. He said the proposed Keystone XL pipeline has been thoroughly analyzed at the federal level.

“This pipeline will offer a level of protection above what the law requires,” McCown said.

Gerry Vap of the Public Service Commission testified in a neutral capacity. He said the commission would be able to perform the services assigned to them in LB5 with existing staff and resources.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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