AUSTIN — The politically volatile Keystone XL pipeline is becoming embroiled in a widening controversy in Texas as supporters tout the promise of jobs and other economic benefits while increasingly vocal opponents say the project would trample property rights and endanger water supplies in East Texas.
Although President Barack Obama rejected the application by TransCanada, the pipeline company says it plans to resubmit its proposal to transport heavy crude oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. The project holds $2 billion of economic potential for Texas, more than for any other state, according to a survey commissioned by TransCanada.
Its high-profile supporters include Gov. Rick Perry and Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, all Republicans. Perry made the pipeline an element of his failed presidential bid by blasting Obama's rejection of the application, accusing the president of squandering the chance to create jobs.
"There is not a politician in Texas in their right mind -- I don't care if you're a Democrat or Republican -- that doesn't know the importance of this to all of Texas," said Bill McCoy, president of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce. At least two Port Arthur refineries, Motiva Enterprises and Valero, would be on the receiving end of the 1,661-mile pipeline.
But landowners, environmentalists and property rights advocates have begun stepping forward in an impassioned campaign against the 376 miles of pipeline that would stretch through 18 counties in East Texas.
Opponents accuse TransCanada of using bullying tactics to seize land rights for the project and say a spill could pollute vital water resources in drought-ridden Texas.
Sign-wielding protesters gathered outside a court hearing in Paris on Friday to support Julia Trigg Crawford in her efforts to block TransCanada from digging on a 600-acre farm that has been in her family since 1948.
Crawford, who manages the farm, says the pipeline threatens Bois d'Arc Creek, which flows through the Northeast Texas property, as well as Native American archaeological remains.
"My hope is that our state leaders will see that their landowners are being bullied," Crawford told the Star-Telegram earlier in the week.
The opposition campaign has also re-energized a property rights coalition that flexed its muscle during the last decade to upend one of Perry's most ambitious projects, the Trans-Texas Corridor.
The project was originally envisioned as a $145 billion-plus supernetwork of tollways, rails and utility lines. It dissolved after it was attacked as a land grab that would encroach on thousands of private acres. The involvement of a foreign contractor, Spain-based Cintra, further angered opponents.
"We certainly have shades of the corridor fight resurrecting themselves," said Wharton businesswoman Debra Medina, who ran against Perry in the 2010 gubernatorial race and is a leading opponent of the Keystone project.
"You've got a foreign company. You've got a private property battle. If I know Texans like I think I do, I think the landowners will win," Medina said.
The project would complement an existing TransCanada pipeline in the United States, doubling the system's total capacity to 1.1 million barrels of crude a day into U.S. markets, the company said. The 1,661-mile, 36-inch, $7 billion pipeline would start in Alberta, Canada, and stretch through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.