Texas Landowners Keep Watchful Eye On Keystone KL Pipeline

fromKUT

Oil is now running through the southern part of the keystone XL pipeline. Supporters and opponents will be watching carefully to see what that could mean for the northern section of the project, that still awaits approval from the Obama administration.

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The southern leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is up and running. This week, a section of the project starting in Cushing, Oklahoma, began carrying crude oil to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. And as Mose Buchele from member station KUT reports, landowners who have long opposed the project are vowing to continue their fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

MOSE BUCHELE, BYLINE: The Keystone pipeline runs under Julia Trigg Crawford's North Texas farm. Just this weekend, she noticed what she calls an unusual flurry of activity. So, she picked up her camera and videotaped it.

JULIA TRIGG CRAWFORD: Track hoes, skids, water trucks, electrical trucks and construction crews showed up. They unearthed the pipeline - both above and below - attached wires and sensors, covered up and were gone as quickly as they, you know, showed up.

BUCHELE: TransCanada, the pipeline's owner, later said it was routine work. But Crawford's interest goes beyond that isolated incident. For years, she's battled the company over its use of eminent domain to take land, including hers. Since she and her allies in the environmental movement failed to stop the southern part of the Keystone, they now plan to keep it under intense scrutiny. Communicating through a website and Facebook page, they hope to make this stretch of pipeline the most closely monitored in the country.

CRAWFORD: This is like a neighborhood watch. We are going to be out there with every means of technology and boots on the ground to watch this stuff, because if you follow what happens a lot of times with unfortunate pipeline spills, it's the landowners that find these things.

BUCHELE: That takes on wider implications when you consider that the Obama administration has not decided on the fate of the northern section of the Keystone. That's the part that would tighten the connection between Texas refineries and the oil sands of Canada. Opponents think bad news from the south might influence that decision. Supporters say the pipeline will bring jobs and help keep crude from being transported by rail. Russ Girling is CEO of TransCanada. He wants to showcase the southern leg, as well.

RUSS GIRLING: Showing people that this isn't an export pipeline, can be operated safely should provide the baseline opinion and evidence that the Keystone XL is, at the end of the day, just another piece of energy infrastructure. It is just a pipeline, and it can be built and operated safely.

BUCHELE: Before the administration decides, the U.S. State Department needs to complete an updated environmental impact study of the pipeline. Girling says he expects that will be done within weeks. For NPR News, I'm Mose Buchele, in Austin.

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