LINCOLN — Nebraskans support construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline through the state by more than 2-to-1.
Sixty-one percent approve of the 36-inch-diameter, high-pressure crude oil pipeline, according to The World-Herald Poll, while 28 percent disapprove.
Proponents of the project said they weren't surprised and called it a signal to move forward.
“I'm hoping that the general public not only recognizes the need for the jobs and energy independence, but also recognizes it can be constructed in an environmentally safe way,” said State Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, a leading supporter.
But opponents said it was unfair to ask a simple yes-or-no question.
Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, a group opposing the project, said the public's responses shift when people are provided more specific information.
Concerns grow, she said, when people learn that the Keystone XL will carry an unconventional oil — diluted bitumen steamed out of tar sand deposits — which opponents contend is more corrosive and more dangerous. The pipeline, Kleeb said, still crosses major portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides most of the water for drinking and irrigation in the region.
“We don't support tar sand pipelines, and we certainly don't support tar sand pipelines that go through the Ogallala Aquifer for export,” Kleeb said.
In August, a poll of rural residents by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln indicated that 65 percent supported the pipeline, but only if it avoided the Sand Hills and the aquifer.
The World-Herald Poll, conducted Sept. 17 through 20, began 12 days after pipeline developer TransCanada Inc. announced new alterations to the pipeline's route, mostly to avoid sandy, erodible soils in north-central Nebraska.
The World-Herald's statewide poll of 800 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It was conducted by Wiese Research Associates of Omaha.
While the poll showed no difference in support across the state's three congressional districts, political affiliation sparked differences: 46 percent of Democrats supported the project, with 40 percent opposed. That compared with 70 percent support and 20 percent opposition among Republicans.
Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, said support for the pipeline is bipartisan and has risen with the route changes.
He dismissed concerns about tar sand oil, saying about 300 million gallons of such oil has safely crossed Nebraska and the aquifer through the smaller original Keystone pipeline, which began operating two years ago across the eastern part of the state.
Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, who led the call for a special session on pipeline issues last year in the Nebraska Legislature, said the results confirm what he hears from constituents: They're pleased that the project is avoiding the Sand Hills.
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