By Kevin O'Hanlon
SEWARD, Neb. (Reuters) - Nebraska's main anti-pipeline group is trying to rally opposition to the TransCanada Corp's <TRP.TO> Keystone XL project's recently approved route through the state, tracking down landowners it says were not given a voice in the regulatory process.
If it succeeds, Bold Nebraska could throw up new roadblocks to the controversial project to move Canadian oil to U.S. refineries, backed by U.S. President Donald Trump, by pressing regulators to revisit TransCanada's application, or by suing if they refuse.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission issued an approval for Keystone XL to pass through the state in late November, removing the last big regulatory obstacle for the long-delayed project. But the commission's approval was not for the route TransCanada had singled out in its application, but for an alternative that shifts it closer to an existing pipeline right-of-way that affects scores of new landowners.
Jane Kleeb, the head of Bold Nebraska -- which has been fighting the pipeline for years -- held the first of a series of meetings with these new landowners on Wednesday.
"We hope to begin the education process with landowners so they understand this is a lifetime easement for a one-time payment," she told Reuters. "We aim to engage at least 20 percent of the new landowners in the legal landowner group."
About 75 landowners and other citizens crammed the meeting in the community center in the small college town of Seward to meet with Kleeb and other pipeline opponents.
Lee Gloystein said he was not happy upon learning that the approved route would go thought his family’s farm. "It’s been in our family since the 1800s," he said. "And we don’t want it to be disturbed or the water to be disturbed."
Bold Nebraska already has about 100 landowners who live along the pipeline's original proposed route signed up against Keystone XL. They include a number of ranchers and farmers worried that spills could pollute their land and the massive Ogallala Aquifer, a source of drinking water and irrigation for a large swath of the central United States.
Jim Carlson, a landowner whose Holt County farm is on the original Keystone XL route, told those at Wednesday’s meeting that he initially was happy the route would cross his land because he could profit from selling TransCanada an easement. But he said he changed his mind after studying the potential environmental harm from a spill.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he said.
The project has been a lightning rod of controversy since it was proposed a decade ago, with environmentalists making it a symbol of their broader fight against fossil fuels and global warming.
TransCanada says the pipeline would be good for the economy and could be run safely. The company said it had about 90 percent support among landowners for the proposed route, but had not yet negotiated support along the approved route.
TransCanada would need to use eminent domain law to gain access to land for which it could not reach an agreement.
Demonstrating opposition along the approved route could add heft to anti-pipeline efforts. Lawyers for opponents of the line argued at a hearing Tuesday that Nebraska regulators had no authority to approve the "alternative" path, and was only allowed to rule on the proposed route.
TransCanada, meanwhile, requested that the public service commission allow it to amend its application retroactively to head off legal challenges. The commission is considering TransCanada's request.
Trump handed TransCanada a federal permit for the 1,180-mile (1,899-km) pipeline in March, reversing a decision by former President Barack Obama in 2015 to block it on environmental grounds.
(Reporting by Kevin O'Hanlon; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Hay and Lisa Shumaker)