MARSHALL, Mo. — A Canadian company's plan to build an oil pipeline that will stretch for hundreds of miles through the Midwest, including through many sensitive waterways, is quietly on the fast-track to approval — just not the one you're thinking of.
As the Keystone XL pipeline remains mired in the national debate over environmental safety and climate change, another company, Enbridge Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, is hoping to begin construction early next month on a 600-mile-long pipeline that would carry tar sands from Flanagan, Ill., about 100 miles southwest of Chicago, to the company's terminal in Cushing, Okla. From there the company could move it through existing pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.
The company is seeking an expedited permit review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its Flanagan South pipeline, which would run parallel to another Enbridge route already in place. Unlike the Keystone project, which crosses an international border and requires State Department approval, the proposed pipeline has attracted little public attention — including among property owners living near the planned route.
Enbridge says it wants to be a good neighbor to the communities the pipeline would pass through, and it has been touting the hundreds of short-term construction jobs it would create. The company also scheduled a series of “open houses” for this week in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois in which it invited the public to come discuss and learn about its plans.
A session Tuesday in Marshall, 90 miles east of Kansas City, drew a handful of Sierra Club protesters armed with fliers denouncing what's been called one of the country's costliest oil spills. It also attracted local politicians, concerned landowners and prospective pipefitters looking for work.
Enbridge responded with an array of free products, from tote bags and tape measures to cookies and key rings.
Wayne McReynolds, one of the 60 people who stopped by the open house in Marshall, said he hoped to learn more about the company's plans to prevent construction runoff from flooding valuable farmland. He said he left the event with only vague assurances, not specific answers.
“You never put the soil back in the trench to the same extent it was taken out,” said McReynolds, a retired soil and conservation worker. “It can't be done.”
Mike Diel of Macon, Mo., said he's had no luck getting Enbridge or the corps to give him specific details about the project, including a precise pipeline map and copies of emergency response plans.
“We're all worried about oil spills and the tar sands getting into the drinking water,” Diel said.
“Until I know where the pipeline is going, how am I supposed to know what I'm supposed to be worried about?” he said.
Enbridge spokeswoman Katie Lange said fears about the pipeline's safety are overblown. She described routine aerial patrols of the pipeline and its seven pump stations and round-the-clock computer monitoring in Calgary that “can shut it down from just a touch of a button” if necessary.
“Once the pipeline is in the ground, there's a very rigorous and robust operations and maintenance program,” Lange said.