Pro and con on the proposed northern segment of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) rachetted up their campaigns this week in anticipation of a U.S. State Department hearing on the project Thursday in Grand Island, NE.

The public hearing is focused on the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the portion of the $7 billion, 1,700-mile project that is slated to traverse Nebraska. Gov. Dave Heineman earlier this year approved a revised route for the northern portion of TransCanada Corp.’s proposed pipeline (see Shale Daily, Jan. 23).

BOLD Nebraska and a coalition of environmental groups and disgruntled landowners conducted a pre-hearing conference call Wednesday to reiterate all of their allegations about why the project involving tar sands based oil is “too risky” for the State Department to approve, citing the recent pipeline ruptures in Arkansas and Marshall, MI to support their allegations.

The opponents contend that the alternate routing approved by Nebraska’s governor is still “environmentally fragile” and should be rejected in the State Department’s final EIS.

That’s not the way pipeline supporters see it. After extended study “the State Department again found the pipeline will not pose a significant risk to the environment…Dozens of state and local agencies and Native American tribes were consulted throughout the process. Further, the department concluded Keystone XL will have no impact on climate change because Canada’s oil sands will be developed whether or not the pipeline is constructed,” according to Senior Downstream Manager Cindy Schild with the American Petroleum Institute (API), which held a media briefing Thursday.

Schild also noted “the route has been moved twice to satisfy concerns of Nebraskans – and has now received the support of the Nebraska governor…The State Department concluded that the project “would have a degree of safety over any other typically constructed domestic oil pipeline system.”

Opponents charged that TransCanada was running into problems with some of its existing pipelines and the ongoing construction of the southern portion of Keystone XL from Cushing, OK, to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. They also pointed to the recent spill in Mayflower, AR on the ExxonMobil Pegasus oil pipeline that carries tar sands-based supplies.

Glen Hooks, the head of the Arkansas Sierra Club, claimed the incident last month sent “tar sands oil rolling down the streets” in a residential neighborhood about 20 miles from Little Rock.

ExxonMobil has maintained that the clean up and monitoring continue successfully, and so far there hasn’t been any indication of air quality or water problems. Nearby Lake Conway remains oil free, according to a Tuesday night report from the global oil and gas giant.

For its part, TransCanada has said the incident, as with earlier ones in the industry, demonstrates “that the pipeline industry must continue to focus on the safe, reliable operation of its energy infrastructure.” Pipelines are still “the safest way to move oil.”