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Meet the Voters on Opposite Sides of the Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

Meet the Voters on Opposite Sides of the Keystone XL Pipeline Debate 6:08

While President Barack Obama's veto on Tuesday of a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline marks yet another chapter in the politics of the controversial energy project, a legal fight continues to stop TransCanada from filing for eminent domain to gain access to the land they need to lay the pipe down in Nebraska.

"There isn't enough money on earth to make us believe in this project," Jenni Harrington said, standing amid the equipment used to work the land on her family farm in Bradshaw, Nebraska. "I am not creative enough to think of anything that they could do to make me change my mind about this project."

"It feels wrong that a foreign company can come in and place an easement on our land against our will."

Harrington and her three sisters own the farm, which has been in their family since her great-great grandparents homesteaded the land in the 1860s. The Keystone XL pipeline's proposed route goes right through one of her sister's plots, and the family has built a small barn powered by solar panels and wind energy right on the route as a not-so-silent protest against the project.

"It feels wrong that a foreign company can come in and place an easement on our land against our will," Harrington said. "It feels wrong that a toxic poisonous substance can be placed in a Pipeline across our land where there is fertile soils and fresh water underneath."

Frank Thorp / NBC News

TransCanada has filed to condemn the land of over 75 landowners along the proposed route in Nebraska, including Harrington's sister's, where they have not gotten permission to lay the 36-inch pipeline. Those proceedings, which could take as long as year, are now on hold while landowners who have been served with eminent domain paperwork fight the constitutionality of the law that gives TransCanada permission to do build on their land.

"[The Keystone XL project] is a monumental success in light of how political this project has become."

"It's not uncommon, obviously, to get somebody who is not in favor of the project, and we do try to accommodate those people," TransCanada's land manager for Keystone projects and development, Andrew Craig, told NBC News. "Very early in routing, when we're doing the studies, we're meeting with people, if there is someone who is not receptive of having the project on their property, we certainly will look at rerouting to extent we can to get onto another property where somebody is more agreeable. Unfortunately you can't always do that."

Those holding out are the outliers, with 90 percent of landowners having given TransCanada permission to lay the pipe down in their land. Craig calls that "a monumental success in light of how political this project has become."

TransCanada asks landowners for an 'easement' to bury the Keystone XL pipeline in the ground along the proposed path, and the company pays landowners not only for that permission but for any damage the construction process may create. Once the pipeline is buried, the land is returned back to way it was before construction, and landowners can farm and drive over it normally.

TransCanada has obtained 100 percent of the rights to lay the pipeline through South Dakota and Montana, the other two states on the proposed route. But if President Obama were to approve the 1,179 mile pipeline today, Nebraska would be the hold up.

In Diller, NE, Charlie Barber already has another TransCanada pipeline in the ground on his land, and he has given them permission to lay the Keystone XL pipeline there as well.

"For me it was a very easy decision, like I said, once you're educated about it, and of course money don't hurt either, but you know, it's something you need," Barber said.

"This is my livelihood... I absolutely don't want to see it destroyed in any way, and I don't see that the pipeline is going to affect that."

Walking on the snow-covered farmland where the previous pipeline is buried, Barber was quick to point out how he can't even tell the difference between the land with the pipeline and the land without it. Small metal signs warning to call before digging in that area are the only physical markers showing the pipeline is buried there.

"This is my livelihood, I've got kids involved in the farming that are going to take over when I retire, and I absolutely don't want to see it destroyed in any way, and I don't see that the pipeline is going to affect that," Barber said.

But for opponents to the pipeline, concerns over what would happen to their land, and to the crucial aquifers that supply the regions water if the pipeline were to leak, continue to drive their fight against its construction.

"They claim 'if it leaks.' For us, it's 'when it leaks,'" Russell Eagle Bear, a tribal historic preservation officer for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, said. "And it may be alright for a period of time, but when it leaks, and when it starts contaminating water, between us and the Gulf of Mexico, we're going to be hurting."

The entire proposed route avoids tribal lands, according to TransCanada, but the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is worried that their land, which is adjacent to the proposed route, could be affected by a potential spill.

"Right through here is where the corridor of the pipeline is going to be coming through, right here, and I'm standing on the corner of tribal land," Tribe member Paula Antoine said, pointing to land just feet away from a camp they have set up. "If (the pipeline) breaks through here it's going to affect our tribal land."

TransCanada points to a number of special conditions applied to the pipeline in an effort to increase its safety, and they believe research shows that concerns of a leak are "not an issue."

"Anything could happen, we don't know," TransCanada's Andrew Craig said. "But we remain confident that when Keystone is ultimately built, it will be the safest pipeline that has ever been constructed in this country."