Who is standing up to the Keystone Pipeline?

  • Jake Crumly, 15, left, father Ryan Crumly, and Zach Crumly hunt for deer on their family’s property near Page, Nebr. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cut through their family’s property.
  • Cows are driven just yards from where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cut through the property of the Kilmurry family.
  • Holt County, Nebr., along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route.
  • Kyle Galloway and Meghan Hammond stand on a corn field on their property where the Keystone XL pipeline would potentially cut through. “The farm has been a lifestyle that our family has chosen to carry on since my Great Great Great Grandfather homesteaded it in the 1860s,” says Hammond. “Passed down from generation to generation, we have been taught how important it is to care for the gifts that it has given us.”
  • Meghan Hammond feeds goats on her and her husband’s property.
  • An aerial view of Holt County, Nebr., along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route.
  • Mike Blocher is nuzzled by one of his horses on his ranch near Oakdale, Nebr. which the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cut through. “[The land is] everything. It’s what we do, it’s our love, it’s our profession, it’s our livelihood… . [The pipeline], it would desecrate it. We just don’t feel like we can live once they’ve ripped into it and put that thing in the ground with the potential of leaking out and getting in the water and on the land and ruining it, contaminating it.”
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Art and Helen Tanderup, at home in Neligh, Nebr., whose land the pipeline would pass through. “We are caretakers of the land; it needs to be protected like one protects a child.” says Art.
  • A pivot stands in a blowing snowstorm near Atkinson, NE. Atkinson, a town of 1,200, is nine miles away from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The area is on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, with a water table as shallow as three feet in some places. The aquifer is vital to local farms and ranches. Tar sands contain bitumen, a suspected carcinogen, which sinks in water. Opponents worry that any leak from the pipeline will be virtually unrecoverable.
  • An aerial view of Holt County, Nebr., along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route.
  • The Green Plains Central City ethanol plant in Central City, Nebr. The town is 13 miles away from the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path.
  • Men gather for breakfast at a cafe in Atkinson, Nebr. The Keystone XL pipeline would cross about nine miles away from the cafe.
  • Jackie Kilmurry stands on her family’s property near Atkinson, Nebr. which the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will cut through.
  • Wind turbines stand near the property of Mike Blocher’s home and horse ranch in Oakdale, Nebr. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cut through his property. One of Blocher’s concern’s is based in experience. While the wind generators were being built, ownership changed numerous times. He said the same thing can happen to the pipeline, that its ownership could become even more remote than TransCanada is to most property owners currently opposing the pipeline.
  • Michael Kilmurry works cattle on his family’s property near Atkinson, Nebr. The Keystone XL pipeline would cross several sections on the land.
  • Holt County, Nebr., along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route.
  • Ron and Jeanne Crumly stand on their family’s property near Page, Nebr. The proposed Keystone XL would cut through their property. “The pipeline puts our livelihood at risk from water contamination to soil disruption,” said Ron. “It comes with no benefit whatsoever to us, to our neighbors, to our state.”
  • Snow covers the ground on 857th Road near Neligh, Nebr. Neligh is less than six miles from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Rosemary Kilmurry, 93, in her living room near Atkinson, Nebr. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cut through her property.
  • Late corn is harvested near Fullerton, Nebr. where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cut through just a few miles up the road.

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Few topics in Washington have proved to be as contentious as the Keystone XL pipeline. Proposed by Canadian energy company TransCanada, an extension of the pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Alberta would pass through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, ultimately arriving at refineries around the Gulf of Mexico. Supporters of the pipeline trumpet the jobs a big energy infrastructure project can produce, while opponents are quick to point out the environmental impacts of transporting tar sand crude across North America. 

Efforts to approve the pipeline have had mixed success in Congress, where a bill failed in the then-Democrat-controlled Senate last year, but the Republican-run House recently passed a bill earlier this year. However, even if the newly Republican-controlled Senate were to send a completed bill to the White House, President Barack Obama has pledged a veto.

Nowhere has the debate been as elevated as it has been in Nebraska. More than 100 landowners have refused to grant right-of-way easements on their land to TransCanada, a fight that has been recently playing out in the Nebraska Supreme Court. Earlier this month, justices dismissed a lawsuit brought by landowners because the seven judge court couldn’t come to the five-person majority needed to overturn the state’s law which permitted the pipeline. At 4-3, Nebraska’s current law allowing the Keystone XL pipeline stood. Following that ruling, several landowners have sued again, in hopes of overturning the state law. And as of Jan. 20, TransCanada began legal action to invoke eminent domain against the landowners who have refused to give up their land.

Houston-based photographer Eric Kayne was drawn to photograph Nebraska back in the 1990’s when studying photography. His professor, the artist Lawrence McFarland, focused in part on the landscapes of the Midwest, in particular Nebraska, which Kayne describes as having a “mystic” beauty.  

“It’s not a part of the country that’s normally explored [photographically],” he says, “It’s almost as though there’s an anti-exoticism about the midwest … but at the same time, it’s beautiful and for lack of a better word, there’s something spiritual there.” It was with that image of Nebraska in mind that Kayne set out to not just photograph the physical space the pipeline will cut through, but also the landowners affected.

“I don’t think any of these people consider themselves activists” Kayne says, “They farm or ranch the land, just like their parents or grandparents did and they’re just trying to keep it for future generations.” Above all, as many in interviews mentioned, they see themselves a “stewards of the land.”

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography

Eric Kayne’s work can be found at erickayne.com

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