Poll: majority of rural Nebraskans want pipeline, but only away from Sandhills, aquifer

A majority of rural Nebraskans support construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, but want it built on a route that avoids the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer, according to the Nebraska Rural Poll.

The 17th annual University of Nebraska-Lincoln poll was sent to 6,350 households in Nebraska’s 84 nonmetropolitan counties in March and April. Results are based on 2,323 responses.

The poll included several questions related to recycling, land and natural resource priorities and the controversial Keystone pipeline, slated to be built to transport crude oil from Canada to Texas refineries. 

Only 13 percent of respondents said they thought the pipeline should not be built because the environmental risks outweigh the economic benefits. Sixty-one percent disagreed with that position. Sixty-five percent, however, agreed the pipeline should be built along an alternative route that avoids the environmentally sensitive Sandhills and Ogallala aquifer; 15 percent disagreed. 

The currently planned route does avoid the Sandhills but it would go through some still-sensitive terrain and over eastern reaches of the Ogallala. 

Opinions were mixed on who should control the decision to build the pipeline. Forty-six percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that the decision should be between only the landowners and pipeline owners and should not involve the government. Thirty percent agreed with that statement, and almost one-fourth had no opinion. 

Seventy-three percent of respondents agreed that if the government ultimately decides the fate of the proposed pipeline, the decision on location within the state should be controlled by state government, not federal government. 

“Build it but build it responsibly” is how Brad Lubben, UNL public policy specialist, described rural Nebraskans’ take on the pipeline. 

And, added rural sociologist Randy Cantrell: “We trust our state government more than our federal government.” 

Differences among demographic groups were significant in some cases. For example, 22 percent of respondents making less than $20,000 a year said they believed the pipeline should not be built at all because of environmental concerns, while only 9 percent of those making $60,000 or more felt that way. That was surprising, Cantrell said, given the jobs the pipeline’s construction is expected to bring to Nebraska. 

As for age and gender, older respondents were more likely than younger ones to disagree with the statement that the pipeline should not be built at all; the same went for men compared to women. Sixty-eight percent of those 65 and older disagreed with that position, while 44 percent of those 19-29 disagreed. Seventy-two percent of men and 53 percent of women disagreed with that statement. 

As for regional differences, 44 percent of Panhandle residents agreed that the decision on the pipeline should have been left to landowners and the pipeline owners, with no government involvement. Only 27 percent of residents of both the South Central and Northeast regions agreed. At the same time, Panhandle residents were more likely than residents of other regions to agree that the pipeline should not be built at all – 21 percent to just 11 percent in the Southeast. 

Concern about where the pipeline is built is tied in part to Nebraskans’ appreciation for the importance of land and natural resources, said Cheryl Burkhart-Kreisel, UNL Extension specialist in entrepreneurship and economic development based at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center. The poll asked questions related to what priority rural Nebraskans give to various uses of Nebraska’s land or natural resources. 

About 65 percent of respondents rated water protection and conservation as a high priority use of land or natural resources, and 55 percent rated production for community/local food systems as a high priority. However, only 27 percent rated recreational activity as a high priority for land or natural resource use, and 38 percent rated production for global food demand as a high priority. 

In other findings, 38 percent of rural Nebraskans reported they recycle a lot. About 26 percent said there is no curbside program available where they live and 23 percent say it’s too difficult to take materials to a drop-off site. 

More than one-half of respondents say their community offers drop-off recycling for the following: plastic bottles, aluminum cans, newspaper, cardboard/cereal boxes/other paper and plastic bags. At least 20 percent reported their community offers curbside pickup for the following: plastic bottles, other plastic, milk cartons, newspaper and cardboard/cereal boxes/other paper. 

Fifteen percent said their community doesn’t offer recycling and 14 percent don’t know of any drop-off sites. 

The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues. This year’s response rate was about 37 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent. Complete results are available online at Nebraska Rural Poll. 

The university’s Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Nebraska Rural Initiative with funding from UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

back to top