As many expected, last week's Keystone oil spill in South Dakota did not convince state regulators in nearby Nebraska to stop the Keystone XL leg of the pipeline. On Monday, the Nebraska Public Service Commission gave the thumbs-up for construction of the controversial project. Developed by TransCanada, Keystone XL will bring tar sands oil from Canada down to the Nebraska-Kansas border. Existing pipelines will then convey the oil to the Cushing oil and gas hub in Oklahoma, and on down to Gulf Coast refineries.
If you caught that thing about Gulf coast refineries, you're on to something. The oil will not be processed or distributed within states along its route. According to one official estimate, Keystone XL will bring a total of just 39 permanent jobs to the four states (Montana, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska) through which it passes. Even if Nebraska somehow gets all 39 jobs, that's a high price to pay for a proven risk.
In April 2016 pipeline owner TransCanada reported a leak of 187 gallons on Keystone in South Dakota, a figure that was eventually revised up to almost 17,000 gallons.
According to Inside Climate News, the 2016 leak was one of "dozens" recorded since the pipeline was commissioned in 2010. In its first year alone, there were 35 leaks along its route in Canada and the US.
Somewhat ominously, the April 2016 leak was not caught by the pipeline's leak detection system. It went unchecked until a passer-by noticed something amiss. The leak detection experts cited by Inside Climate News indicate that even with advanced detection technology, some leaks are too small to set off alarms, and in remote areas a small leak could add up to big numbers.
Nationally, the nation's network of oil and gas pipelines experienced 5,682 "serious" episodes from 1997 to 2016. In past years the numbers often dipped below 300 per year, but since 2013 the annual number of episodes has ranged from 301 to 330.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the South Dakota Public Service Commission is concerned because the spill is already the third to hit the state since 2010. The Keystone pipeline has an anticipated lifespan of up to 100 years, and the episodes could become even more frequent as it ages.
According to Reuters, South Dakota could suspend or even cancel the pipeline's permit if a forensic analysis reveals that TransCanada violated its conditions.
Don't hold your breath for the results of the analysis. If preliminary findings are not definitive a more comprehensive study will be in order, and that could take months.
Here's the nut of the problem, as described by the Lincoln Journal Star:
[The alternate route] would impact about 40 new landowners, many of them in Madison and Seward counties, who aren't along the preferred route and don't have the original Keystone pipe cutting through their land already.
Meanwhile, the oil clock is ticking. Every nation on Earth is beginning to take definitive steps to wean their economies away from fossil fuels. That includes the US, which is tapping into its massive wind energy resources even though the Trump administration has pulled the nation out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
If the Keystone XL pipeline makes economic sense for TransCanada today, that won't be the case for much longer.
As for the benefits, the Journal Star provides this citation:
"...we also are very cognizant of the benefits to Nebraska, especially to the counties along the route. With economic concerns abounding, tax revenues from a project such as this can help ease burdened landowners, counties, school districts, and subdivisions by raising the potential of future property tax relief via expansion of the local tax base."
The new Rattlesnake Creek wind farm will involve payouts to local property owners in addition to pouring new tax revenues into local coffers.
The new wind farm will also offer about 16 permanent jobs after construction, which is probably more than the state will get from Keystone XL.
The real kicker is the new businesses that will stake out ground in Nebraska on account of access to clean power.
Facebook has already pledged to soak up the lion's share of electricity from the new wind farm, which will go to power a new data center.
Facebook is currently in the process of hiring its first wave of 18 permanent staff at the new data center, and it anticipates a total of 100 permanent positions once the facility is fully operational.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.