Backers, foes flock to Nebraska for Keystone pipeline hearing

OMAHA, Nebraska, April 18 Thu Apr 18, 2013 2:40pm EDT

OMAHA, Nebraska, April 18 (Reuters) - Friends and foes of the Keystone XL oil pipeline have converged on Grand Island, Nebraska, on Thursday a fractious public meeting on the controversial, years-in-the-making project.

The State Department is holding a one-day hearing in the city of about 50,000, the first since releasing a 2,000-page report on the environmental impacts of the pipeline in March.

Officials from TransCanada Corp, union leaders and some farm groups held a briefing early on Thursday to discuss safety enhancements and the positive economic impact on local communities if the pipeline goes ahead.

Also on hand for almost eight hours of testimony were environmental groups and individuals opposed to the pipeline, which they say would lead to more greenhouse gas emissions and blunt efforts to make cars run on cleaner fuels.

The proposed 830,000 barrel per day pipeline would link Canada's oil sands petroleum fields with U.S. Gulf Coast refineries and would also carry domestic oil from Montana and North Dakota.

Dozens of speakers from both sides of the fence took turns before the microphone at the Heartland Events Center, a conference facility that has hosted everything from monster truck derbies to antique markets.

Keystone was recently thought to be likely to win approval from the Obama administration after a more than four year fight, and after TransCanada altered the path of the Nebraska leg to avoid sensitive ecological areas.

Nebraska's governor has given the project his blessing after initially being opposed.

But opponents have gotten a second wind after a pair of spills of Canadian oil in the United States in the past month - from railcars in Minnesota and from an Exxon Mobil pipeline in Arkansas.

The Obama administration is expected to rule on the pipeline later this year after the State Department considers public comments and decides with the help of federal agencies whether the project is in the nation's interest.

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